Published on December 19, 2018 by Timothy George  
samford seal


Dr. Timothy George delivered this commencement address to the graduates of  Samford University on December 15, 2018.

President Westmoreland, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished colleagues, honored guests, and especially you, the graduating class of 2018.

This is a day of rejoicing, of thanksgiving, and of great expectations.  I want to say to each of you—Congratulations!

As I tell our students in the Divinity School—salvation is by grace, but graduation is by works!  You have worked hard, you have labored long.  You have done well.  And now you are about to be graduated.

I put it that way because graduation is not something you do, it is something that happens to you.  Not that you are a passive participant or a victim of graduation.  Far from it.  You have read many books, taken many exams, jumped through all kinds of hoops to get here today.  It’s a big deal!  You deserve every accolade that comes your way.

And yet, you are being graduated—from something, into something, and for something.

What you are being graduated “from,” of course, is Samford University, an institution founded in the closing days of the year 1841, 177 years ago.  Through the ravages of the Civil War, the rigors of Reconstruction, two world wars, the penury of the Great Depression, and the perplexities of postmodernism, Samford has survived and thrived as an ongoing experiment in excellence.

From this day forward, Samford’s DNA and yours will be conjoined.

What you are being graduated “into” is something larger than any one institution.  It used to be called “the learned company of ladies and gentlemen.”  Let us call it instead a community of discourse across time—a conversation with great minds, great books, great ideas, great souls who have taught us not only how to think deeply and critically but also to act wisely, and live faithfully, and love with integrity even when things go badly and the world seems to be falling apart.

What about the Samford DNA?    Universities often put the ideals they cherish most on their seals—Harvard’s seal has just one word:  Veritas, Truth.  A few years later that other school, Yale, thought they could improve on that.  They added two other words:  Veritas et lux: Truth and Light.

Samford’s seal has neither of those words but rather three other weighty Latin words that encompass both Veritas and Lux.

          Deo, Doctrinae, Aeternitati—For God, for learning, forever.

You are being graduated “for” something, for God, for learning, forever.

I love that story about the five-year-old sprawled out on the floor with crayons and paper.  Her mother says, ‘What are you drawing, honey?’  ‘God,’ she replies.  ‘Nobody knows what God looks like,’ the mother said. ‘They will when I’m through!’

You have to admire the creativity, the pluck of that child.  But somewhere along the way we have to learn that no matter how many crayons we have, no matter how many degrees we earn, there is a mystery about God that must be approached with humility and reverence.

For God shows up in unexpected places.  His middle name is surprise.  You are graduating in December, yes, but in Christian terms, it’s the season of Advent—which means something is coming, something is on the way, someone is about to be born.

This is the season that reminds us, in words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that the joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross. 

 “It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but finds life precisely within it.”[1]

For God…for learning.  Do these two words belong together on the same seal?  Some have thought not.  When the famous Puritan, John Cotton, was a student back in England, at Cambridge, he was worried that “if he became a godly man, t’would spoil him for being a learned one.”[2]  But the split between academic rigor and spiritual vitality is a false dichotomy. 

For Samford aims to be a Christ-centered university where faith is ever in search of understanding, where intellect and piety coinhere, where serious study and earnest prayer are both offered in the service of God and humanity. 

Deo, Doctrinae.  Those were the original words on the seal of Howard College from 1841, but a few years ago we added a third Latin word, Aeternitati.  Forever, for eternity.  We do not mean that Samford is forever.  One hundred and seventy seven years, pretty good, but hardly a blink in the light of eternity.  I’ve been to Athens in Greece where Plato and Aristotle taught, nothing left.  I’ve walked through the Forum in Rome, once the nerve center of a great empire, now only ruins. 

And yet the Scriptures say that God has set eternity in our hearts (Eccles 3:11).  I trust you have been well prepared for your chosen career, or for graduate school, or for civic and family responsibilities that will come your way.  But above all, I hope you will cherish the values of a life fit for eternity, one more kind than clever, one more shaped by compassion than competition, a life fit for eternity where faith outweighs fear, where hope gives confidence for every challenge and every tomorrow, and above all, where the love of God fully revealed in the face of Jesus Christ centers your life and brings you peace that surpasses all understanding. “What you have received as heritage, take now as task, and thus you will make it your own.”[3]

On October 22, 1939, C. S. Lewis preached at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford.  Less than two months earlier Hitler had invaded Poland, and Britain was about to face the horrible onslaught of the Nazi attack known as the Battle of Britain.  This is what C. S. Lewis told the assembled students:

It may seem odd for us to carry on classes, to go about our academic routine in the midst of a great war.  What is the use of beginning when there is so little chance of finishing?  How can we study Latin, geography, algebra in a time like this? aren’t we just fiddling while Rome burns?                     

This impending war has taught us some important things.  Life is short.  The world is fragile.  All of us are vulnerable, but we are here because this is our calling.  Our lives are rooted not only in time, but also in eternity, and the life of learning, humbly offered to God, is its own reward.  It is one of the appointed approaches to the divine reality and the divine beauty, which we shall hereafter enjoy in heaven, and which we are called to display even now amidst the brokenness all around us.[4]

Graduates, this is your calling too.  Amidst the brokenness all around us, and sometimes even within us, we are summoned today to be faithful to God’s calling.  We are to be steadfast, persevering in discipleship so as to bear witness to the beauty, the light, and the divine reality that we shall forever enjoy in heaven.  We are called to do this in a culture that seems, at times, fragile and beset by dangers we cannot predict.  You will not do this perfectly—you will fail, as all human beings do—but reach out and claim the promise of God’s forgiveness.  Reach out and accept the gift of a new beginning, the stewardship of starting all over again.

Remember that, class of 2018.  Now go out and crash in the gates of hell!  And Vaya con Dios!


[1] Dietrich Bohoeffer, Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 16 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 378.

[2] John Cotton quoted in Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), 101.

[3] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Melody of Theology: A Philosophical Dictionary (1988; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), 102.

[4] C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory (1949; repr., New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 47.