Text of 2017 Baccalaureate Sermon
Equipped to Serve
Prepared remarks by Sandra A. Gaddy, chief executive officer of the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan; member of the Hope College Board of Trustees; co-chair, with her husband, Arlen, of the Hope College Parents’ Council
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Dimnent Memorial Chapel
“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hope College graduates, proud parents and relatives, students, faculty, staff, and trustees, all of you in the audience this morning — thank you so much for being here, and thank you, President Knapp, for your kind words. I hope my address this morning is worthy of your introduction and this marvelous space.
When I think of those who have spoken here in this chapel before me, it is overwhelming – Norman Vincent Peale, Dick Gregory, Princess Margaret of the Netherlands, Maya Angelou, who is one of my personal favorites and so many others — I am truly honored to be here before you this morning, class of 2017.
I am here not only as your Baccalaureate speaker, but also as a proud mother of a 2017 Hope graduate; she is one of you – Angelique. I said I would not embarrass her, but I must share that she tried to convince me that because part of her dual-degree was in communication, that it would be a good idea if I provided her my speech ahead of time to review and edit. But my dear Angelique, you inspire me, and I hope that I inspire you.
Graduates, many years from now, you will not remember who spoke here today; you will not remember me. But my prayer for you is that you may remember what you heard here today, and that you go out into the world and “serve.”
I have titled my address “Equipped to Serve.” I believe service is your true calling, your great opportunity. To serve - it is your duty as a Hope College graduate, but more importantly as a child of God. Together with leadership, service is part of the fabric of this place – part of Hope’s mission, and I hope yours, to be fully alive in mind, body and spirit. To serve as a Servant-Leaders.
A fellow 2017 graduate, Megan Bisson modeled servant-leadership as she coordinated two campus wide student service day events, organizing 50 volunteer opportunities for student groups, by volunteering at the Center for Women in Transition, an organization that seeks to end domestic and sexual violence, along with several other volunteer opportunities. Megan is “Equipped to Serve”!
When you serve, you move closer to God’s heart. Service will change your life because through it you can impact men, women and children in your neighborhoods, your communities and also the world.
It is important that you remember that “the price of greatness is responsibility.” You are responsible to “serve,” not just leave Hope and get a job and make a lot of money. The diploma you will receive today is like a ticket – your ticket “to serve” and be part of the world. Today is a new beginning.
We live in a world where many people seek to become famous or to be seen; we see it every day on reality shows and via social media. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, “Not everyone can be famous but everyone can be great, because greatness is built on service.” And graduates you will be great! After four years of studying, your tomorrow is now! Your someday is today.
Never forget that Jesus came to serve others, not to be served. So let us begin with some words of our Lord:
This is Love in Action
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
(Romans 12:9–13, NIV)
As I prepared for today, I thought a lot about my own service experiences and when that desire to serve started to take shape. I began to reflect on my childhood and when service became a part of me. I grew up in the city of Detroit, a child of a pastor, who was also an auto worker, and a mom who opened a home daycare to help with the family finances and because she was gifted caregiver. There were six of us kids, three boys and three girls, and as the first daughter, I was the second oldest child. As a pastor of our small congregation, my dad never drew a salary, but he loved to minister. I learned from my parents that ministry did not simply live within the walls and roof of a building, but it started in our hearts. As I reflected on their tremendous sacrifices made for me and my siblings, our extended family and the community they served, tears begin to flow uncontrollably as I was writing. My parents were hard workers, but with a family of eight it was often hard for them make ends meet, so there were times that our family needed help. I share this, because it is important to understand that Humility and Kindness is vital in your service. Even as a kid, I can see the people who served our family in times of need with compassion, a sense of calling, and authentic love which only comes from our Father. But it’s important to know that me and my older brother could also see in the eyes of those that pitied us, or felt we were entitled, and there was even a volunteer that made comments to my parents “your home sure looks nice” as if we should have an unkempt or filthy home. The volunteer never considered that pride of homeownership is not exclusive to the wealthy. My parents took pride in their home, the home that the Lord blessed our family with. So Humility and Kindness is a critical quality in a servant as he/she serves the needs of those seeking help, and sometimes hope.
Humility and Kindness is not something that is traditionally taught in college. There are no course that teaches this. But Humility and Kindness is a practice that will take you far! If there is anything that you take away from your learning experience here, remember to embody Humility and Kindness. Humility and Kindness is far greater than mathematics or the Wealth of Nations, the Theory of Relativity or the course of European History. Humility and Kindness cannot be taught; it is not part of your major or minor. It is something you bring to the classroom or the office. It is you, who you are, and even children can see it, I did. Whether you pursue accounting, business, economics, or psychology, whether you become an entrepreneur, a lawyer, a doctor, or a teacher, remember Humility and Kindness. Never forget that. It will ensure your success! I wanted to say this at the on-set. When you leave here today and receive your diploma this afternoon, wherever your journey takes you – Humility and Kindness. It’s your calling card and it says so much about you and about Hope College! When you leave the presence of someone you just served they should feel, they should see, compassion, your true desire to help, and an authentic love that does not pity but sees God potential.
Is Humility and Kindness a prelude to service? I think it is. It equips you to serve. It equips you for Servant-Leadership.
Emilio Isasi, another fellow 2017 graduate, exemplifies Humility and Kindness as he serves as a DJ, trip companion and buddy with the Holland senior community. Emilio is “Equipped to Serve”
So just what is service? If you serve, you give your time, your money, your talent, and your great ideas to a worthwhile cause. You help someone else achieve their dreams. You solve a problem. You balance the scales. You strengthen the fabric of our shared humanity. You make a difference in someone else’s life.
Everyone, all of you, can serve. You can all get involved. There are people (men, women and children) who are hungry, who are homeless, who are jobless, those who are sick, disabled, isolated and ignored. So often many Americans believe one must leave the country in order to get involved with Mission work, but I challenge you to look within your own communities, around your state, and I guarantee you, you will find mission fields ready and ripe for service. In Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development, by John Perkins, he states, “ By discovering people’s felt needs or ourselves and making their needs our own, we can begin to help bring about real, lasting change in our urban communities.” He goes further to state, “There is a great barrier of distrust between the rich and poor today, which can be overcome only by affirming the dignity of people and loving them around their needs. Matthew 19:18, tells us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There is a whole world out there that needs you – where you live, down the street, in your community, across the country, across the oceans. Service is your chance to fall in love with a cause, to help someone “dream big” about their future, your opportunity to also dream big, to make a human impact. You can all give something because you are equipped to serve.
A very important part of my story I later reflected on is, although there were times our family needed help, and yes we were blessed by those who helped us, in the middle of our personal need I watch my parents give and serve others unconditionally. They taught me about service, often without having to say a single word but through their actions. They would prepare meals or instruct me and my siblings to box or bag food if they knew a neighbor was in need, or if someone was home sick. As children or even young adults we do not always understand the message our parents try to model for us. At times my siblings and I felt like my parents always gave away the “good stuff,” like our King Vitamin cereal. I mean, “why not the Post Tosties Flakes,” we would ask. You see we could not afford Captain Crunch, but to us kids King Vitamin was a worthy alternative, we didn’t care that it was a little cheaper, it was way better than Post Tosties and it was full of sugar! My parents did not believe it was God’s best to give the clothing or food that you didn’t want or that you liked least. Although it may have appeared to me and my siblings that we were without because our focus as children was on the item or the number of items we were sharing with our neighbor, my parents always knew that God would provide. He always did. Their desire to love their neighbors as God commands and their deep desire to serve wholeheartedly became rooted in me in ways I could not imagine.
After college I spent 15 years in the banking industry in various roles as a branch manager, VP of Business Banking and VP of Wealth Management. I was blessed to work for banks that were “community minded,” so I began to serve early in my career. From reading to children who were behind in his/her reading level (you have to be careful here, one of my little third graders Caleb wanted to marry me), I have cleaned and did light repair work on a Seniors home, served at our local shelters and food pantries, and had the opportunity to serve on my first nonprofit board at 26 years old. Toward the end of my banking career I begin to feel a pull on my heart to serve fulltime in nonprofit services. You have to understand, I was leaving a well-paid corporate banking position, but for me, it was no longer fulfilling and over 10 years ago, I made the leap to nonprofit service. I’ve had the opportunity to work for Mel Trotter Ministries, the second oldest homeless shelter in Michigan serving men, women and children, and for Inner City Christian Federation, Michigan’s premier affordable housing and housing education organization serving low-to-moderate income households in Greater Grand Rapids. And as you have heard I have recently joined the team at the Women’s Resource Center as its CEO, an organization that advocates for women to achieve economic independence through meaningful employment. Nonprofit work is what I was meant to do. Wherever your career or life takes you, know you are “Equipped to Serve.”
I would like share a final fellow graduate with you, Rebecca Pavlock, who has volunteered her time at Outdoor Discovery Center, Holland Rescue Mission, coordinated Girls Science Days and Operations Christmas Child, among many other service activities. Rebecca is “Equipped to Serve.”
I know I’ve only highlighted a few, but how many of you graduates while at Hope have had the opportunity to serve? Raise your hands high. As I reflect on serving, I hope you too will recall your memories of serving others during your time at Hope College. As you grow older, you will remember your days at Hope. Your lives will all be, let’s say, different. You will find your own fulfillment and I pray you will discover your own worthy causes, your own traditional acts of individual kindness. You will serve and you will remember, and you will remember Hope.
It is true – America is a wealthy nation. But with all of our wealth, most of the gains have gone to people at the top of the economic ladder. Our poor population has increased. So there are people you can serve who need your help, help that is compassionate and authentic, or simply put, genuine.
I believe we are all blessed and held together by our common humanity. Indeed, all lives are of equal value. You, we, have an obligation to give to and serve those in need. Our common humanity demands it, our God commands it; we are stronger together than our differences.
Be a person of value – not simply a successful person! None of you will be truly happy until you serve someone else. You will be more like Jesus. You have a moral responsibility to make a difference in someone else’s life. Do not simply set a goal to grow rich; be a person of value. And remember Humility and Kindness is essential! When you leave Hope, it will be your season of service, your new beginning.
Now for the hard part, actually, this is easy. Think about this: What can you do? How can you be of service? How can you serve? What sacrifices are you willing to make?
What are your dreams? What are your God given talents? So now what?
As someone who enjoys sports, I say “Get in the game.” Or simply…just get started. But do more than simply show-up.
In your life, you don’t want to look back and feel like you simply sat on the sidelines.
Contribute. Be part of the solution.
Ask yourself, “if not me, who?” After all, someone who is hungry, someone who is in need, that person could be you.
Commit yourself to change the world for the better. When you leave Hope, some of you will go home. Some of you will continue your education, here or someplace else; most of you will find work, hopefully in your chosen field, and you will make money. You will scatter all over America, and perhaps all over the world. Remember, you are not only an educated person; you are a person who is “equipped to serve.”
Don’t wait. Too often, I think, we wait to be asked to serve. Be a willing helper. Jump right in. Volunteer. It is the highest duty you will encounter as you go out into the world. Be of good courage!
Mother Teresa said that “our greatest sin is not hatred but indifference.” Don’t be indifferent. Be committed. Be passionate about something!
Maya Angelou, who once spoke from this chancel, would share often “if you find it in your heart to care for someone else, you will have succeeded.”
I once read that there are ten things you can do to cure the Blues: “Go out and do something nice for someone else — then repeat it nine times!”
What is service? It is “love dressed in work clothes.” Open your hands and you will open your heart.
Life is not only about you and me.
So I ask you to commit.
Be of use.
Watch and learn.
Be an advocate for unconditional kindness.
Choose hope over despair, optimism over cynicism, caring over withdrawal and indifference.
Help create a more peaceful, civil, and equitable world. Impact your neighborhoods and communities for Christ. And this impact is so much greater than any title you can carry, and more than the money you will make.
There are thousands of organizations that need your help, and those in your local communities!
Make service your personal ministry.
Go out and minister to the needs of others.
Remember Dr. King, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
And finally from Our Lord, Jesus Christ:
“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than receive.”
(Acts 20:35, NLT)
When speaking word of life and hope to our children we would tell them, “You are immensely talented and highly gifted”. I now say to you, Hope graduates from the Class of 2017… “You are immensely talented and highly gifted”, and you have been Equipped for Service!
Now, go forth from this place and serve.
Thank you very much and Go HOPE!