To the Graduating Class of 2021:

I’ve been thinking a lot about graduation, because hearing about yours causes me to bear in mind my own, remember that day many years ago. Thirty-three years ago today, in fact.

I recall, too, how my class held a contest, allowing students to write a motto for graduation. I thought long and hard about the words I’d choose, about my thoughts on the matter. At eighteen, having not yet experienced a whole lot of life, I penned a flowery poem of sorts and, surprise of all surprises, I won. Thus, the graduating class of 1988 had these words printed in their program, which were quite possibly the first ever of my words to be in print–

The Past behind us as Memories.

The Present upon us as Reality.

The Future before us as Dreams.

All in all, Time is our Friend.

I earnestly believed these words back then, and I still do, I suppose–though my understanding has changed a bit. Broadened is perhaps a better word.

Because what I’d not yet come to realize was that, in the course of Time—comprised of one’s past, present, and future—both the good and bad of life are used to deepen our character, refine who we are, as well as who we’re to become.

Take, for example, the missing chair on our graduation day—the one that our classmate Donnie Harrison should have occupied. His passing seven years earlier, on a sunny May evening in 1981 when our class was only in fifth grade, left an indelible mark, and I imagine he was missed most at those milestone events—like homecomings and proms… and graduation. Though silently, my classmates and I shook our fists, confessed that we were angry that he was absent, that his chair—on that day and every day to come—would remain empty.

The accident that took our friend’s life, took Donnie too soon, had happened in the Past, but it affected our Present–would affect in some manner of speaking, for some more than others, our Futures too. Thus, Time in that regard didn’t feel much like a friend–not on May 28th, 1988.

Still, I believe it was.

Because true friends don’t always speak mere pleasantries. Sometimes her exhortations hurt. Sometimes she challenges us to look back with honest eyes to see how something painful held purpose. How something broken blossomed beauty.

I don’t think I thought of that when I wrote the words that became the 1988 graduating class motto. Frankly, I think I looked at the whole of life mostly through rose-colored glasses. And that’s okay, I suppose. Because if Time is anything, besides being a friend she’s a teacher. And even better is when our teachers are also our friends, which leads me to another memory.

It was 2007. Nearly twenty years had passed since I’d walked through Covington High School’s gymnasium to receive my diploma, step into my future along with eighty-some classmates—many of us having been together for thirteen years. I’d lived away from my hometown for quite some time by then, and I always relished those opportunities to return, and this occasion was no exception.

My sister Katie was with me, as well as her children and two of my own—my son Jacob and soon-to-be daughter Kristie. They were both about eight, the same age I was when I enjoyed playing at the park and participating in parades down High Street.

Kristie hadn’t been legally adopted by us, but we were anticipating signing the final paperwork any day. She’d been with us off and on for quite some time, and she was to me in every manner imaginable my daughter.

We cruised Covington like old times—drove up and down the side streets and by the schools, pointing to special places and reminiscing. We even allowed the children to get out and play on the elementary school’s playground—pushing them on the swings and listening to their giggles as they swung on the monkey bars.

Before heading out of town, we drove by the Church of the Brethren and then turned down College Street where my husband used to live. It was there that I saw someone, and Time stopped. She was beautiful—tall and slender, dressed sharply with her full head of white hair cut short and stylish.

I’d have recognized her anywhere, and the years certainly seemed to have been good to her.

Rolling down my window, I called out, “Hello, Ms. Apwisch.”

She turned toward the voice, and our eyes met. Unlike her, I knew my appearance had changed since our last encounter, but she recognized me on the spot. “Maureen.” And she smiled.

Katie and I didn’t get out of our vehicle, just talked for a few minutes through our open windows—covering the span of several decades in only minutes to catch her up and hear about her life, as well. Time did feel like our friend right then, and those Present moments were a gift that I savor now, all these years later.

Before saying goodbye, my sister snapped a photo of me with my beloved 1st grade teacher. What an influence she had been, planting seeds that would blossom for me in the Future, guiding me toward a career as an elementary teacher too. Furthermore, she encouraged me in my love for words by teaching me to read and shaping my earliest writing.

That was the last time I ever saw my friend Madeline Apwisch.

And it wasn’t many months later that we said goodbye, too, to our desired daughter Kristie, whose last name was, ironically, Miller and who we thought was destined to be ours. Those final papers were never handed to us to sign, and she left us on a hot summer North Carolina afternoon. The birds didn’t seem to realize because they just kept on singing, though my song was snuffed out for some days to follow.

And no, Time did not feel much like my friend.

But now, all these years later, as I ponder my Past and how much of it has impacted my Present –will continue to affect my Future–I can honestly say that Time is indeed my friend, as well as my teacher—no matter the joys or the sorrows it brings.

If nothing more, what Time has taught me is that all our days are a grace. From where I stand today—in the Present—I’m graciously only permitted to see so far, to hear so much, of what lies before me in the Future, yet I’m offered, while my mind is still clear, the chance to look back and see with hindsight the Past that I might learn from it.

And by such grace, you, too, Dear Graduates, will fly into the Futures you now face. You’ll find limbs along the way upon which to land that you might rest in the Present–places to ponder the Past that you might apply the lessons you’ve learned before you again take flight. And with freedom, you’ll extend grace to others, to all those you’ll meet in the journey–going, as the Psalmist says, “… from strength to strength” (Ps. 84:7).

Yes, I can still say it, though the words hold deeper meaning now than they did back in 1988.

Graduating Class of 2021–Time is indeed your Friend. 

Just remember these three things:

  • Appreciate those teachers and peers from your Past who’ve influenced you to become the best version of yourself to impact the world for the greater good.
  • Breathe in this moment—the gift of the Present—and believe in yourself.
  • Mostly, look toward your Future while holding to this promise from your heavenly Father—

“My grace is sufficient for you…” (II Cor. 12:9—NIV).

May you face your Future with courage right now, in this Present moment, and allow the Past to be your teacher.

Fly high!

Gracious God, please be with each graduate. Help them to know that, more than anything, You promise to make all things beautiful in Your time. Amen.