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Jack Farnsworth commencement address
May 4, 2013
I would first like to say “thank you” to the faculty and staff here today for an invaluable education. To my graduating friends, what we have achieved is both tremendously difficult and life-altering, especially from a school as rigorous and distinguished as Furman. And everything you, personally, have accomplished during your time here is worthy of recognition and honor.
Honestly, I am one of the least qualified students in this stadium to deliver this address. I am not valedictorian, nor am I salutatorian. In fact, despite keeping a scholarship that required me to sustain a 3.0 GPA, I somehow graduated with a 2.9. My peers never invited me to Quaternion, I never ran for student government, and, though I was involved in several campus organizations, I was never elected to a position of leadership in any of them. I am fairly convinced that the committee, needing to speed up a long commencement ceremony, simply went with the candidate who had the shortest introduction possible: Jack Farnsworth, student.
But the difficult, embarrassing reality is that when entering my senior year this past September, I reviewed all that I had failed to achieve while at Furman, and I felt worthless.
We have at Furman a deadly culture of success in the midst of suffering. We value our workloads as prized possessions: weighing, measuring, and showing anyone who asks our colossal burdens. We then confidently assure them that despite our impossible schedules, we are more than capable to successfully handle all of our classes, commitments, and relationships. And when some magazine website declared us the second most rigorous school in America, we gladly tweeted and re-tweeted it to the world because, finally, the Daily Beast had validated our great struggle! Through these interactions, we have spent four years subtly encouraging one another to smile often, dress well, and walk evermore proudly through campus, until Furman’s perfectly manicured lawns become indistinguishable from the perfectly manicured students who strut upon them.
But Furman’s dirty little secret is that many of us have spent much of the past four years desperately trying to figure out whether we are among the haves or the have-nots. And sometimes our insecurities press down so hard, we cannot breathe. On the heaviest of these days, we fantasize about our graduation and the days when we will finally be free from performing—free from the competitiveness, the awards, and our own feelings of worthlessness.
I completed my requirements in December. Due to my early departure, my last two weeks were filled with friends who wanted to catch up one last time before I left. We reminisced, and soon the stories overwhelmed me: learning to hand roll cigarettes while discussing God and ourselves by the Place of Peace, jumping in the White Oaks pool for an undetected midnight swim, and, most importantly, the quiet Dining Hall conversations when we took off our manicured masks and let one another see the broken but beautiful people underneath. In two weeks, I relived four years of my life. And in these stories I found my worth.
Our value is not found in the sum of our awards. If it were, then I stand before you nearly worthless. Rather, it is found in those holy moments spent amongst our friends. It is found in our loyalty, our compassion, and our mercy. It is found in the people we have changed and affected in the midst of our rigorous education, as well as the people we have learned to accept for who they are. Our value is found in the ways we have loved one another, and in the ways we have allowed ourselves to be loved.
In the words of the apostle Paul: “… if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” With that, my commission to the Class of 2013 is this: that we would be known, not for our successes as we conquer the world, but for the ways in which we love it well.
To the people at Furman, like our assistant chaplain Maria Swearingen, who opened the path to my chaplaincy work at the hospital and prison, or Brett Stonecipher, my closest friend, who spent many late nights putting me back together after I fell apart: without your support and love, I would not be who I am today. And to my graduating class, I know that if you love the world half as well as you have loved me for these past four years, I will always be proud to say that I am a member of Furman’s Class of 2013.
As we all look back on our accomplishments, and forward toward a lifetime of service, remember this: all of our successes lose their meaning when separated from the people who attended them, and your story is no less beautiful if unadorned by ribbons. Thank you and God bless.