By Irven Lee
My high school class celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in May of this year. As I look back down the hill it seems that that diploma was given to me only a little while ago. I lacked a few weeks being sixteen, and I weighed about sixty-five pounds less than my. present weight of one hundred eighty. Money and jobs were not- in abundant supply since the indescribable depression had settled down on every community in the land. I cannot now remember where I laid some object that I had in my hands a few minutes ago, but many of the events of those school days at the Murray High School are easy to see as I look back over my shoulder.
When I marched by to be given that diploma I had a future and now I have a past. It would have been impossible to describe my future on that big day fifty years ago. I now know what my future was in 1930 because it has become my past by this time. Nashville, Tennessee, Valdosta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee were to be called home at intervals along the way, but most of my years were to spent in northwest Alabama. You young people who are finishing high school this year might also be surprised if you could see your future.
When the forty-eight seniors at Murray came to the big day, we made plans for a commencement service. We had finished something, and we were about to commence something else, but we did not know what we were commencing. We were pushed out into a world that knew poverty and hard work. What we would do or become was determined more than we knew by our parents, teachers, intimate friends, preachers, and habits of those days. Who knows how much the providence of God may have helped us? I wish I had known how great my debt of gratitude was in 1930 and had been more thoughtful and skilled in expressing it. I think I just took things for granted.
By nature I was a boy with dreams and optimism, so I did not feel afraid to commence whatever it was that I was to commence. Each day passed with some satisfaction and left hope for tomorrow. There must have been some days that did not qualify for such description but, honestly, I do not remember where or when they fitted into the picture, if there were those unhappy days. I was a timid boy without money or prestige and only a few people in the world even knew that I existed. That did not bother me. In my little world I had my hopes, and they could hardly be called ambitions, but they were enough as I anchor my soul so I gladly “commenced” the rest of my life after that commencement service.
My classmates and I never dreamed that the depression would give way to the most extravagant and wasteful generation that has lived on the earth. I could drive a T-Model Ford in those days, but I have seen better cars since. I then knew of no family with central heating that was thermostatically controlled. I had never seen a television. Houses were generally small, and bedrooms had no closet space. Can anyone estimate what percentage of the world’s oil has been used in my generation? Those of us who have thought through the years that we were poor have lived with luxury as compared to the past and as compared with the possessions of people in other parts of the world. I think we just took things for granted while we went on consuming the world’s natural resources.
Let me say to you young people that my past does not give me power to foretell your future. You are beginning (commencing) a journey into an entirely different world to that in which I have lived. I would be afraid to touch the button on a time machine to turn my age back to your age. I would be afraid to face the future if I were your age unless the time machine could give me the hope and optimism that were mine fifty years ago. Expect changes. Live life as it comes passing by and make the most of it. May God’s blessings be upon you. My oldest grandchild is graduating from high school this year. Can any of you describe the world in which he may celebrate his fiftieth anniversary with his high school classmates?
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has not changed in my life time, nor will it change during yours. High school graduates this spring, and all others, should take the Bible with them through life’s journey. Have reverence for it, knowledge of it, and a strong determination to follow its counsel regardless of what others may do. My generation has allowed our moral standards to be lowered very much. Divorce and all major crimes are much more common than when I got my diploma in 1930. Alcohol and other drugs are destroying more lives. Be wise and understand what the will of the Lord is. Ire knows best.
I make no boast of a perfect life. My hope of eternal life is based on grace and mercy even though I have tried to do right and to encourage others to do the same. It is a joy to me to see young people who are devout in this vulgar and skeptical world. Selfishness is not a part of the Christian’s life. Let us remember this until the end.
One’s life is a little like a book with many chapters. The book could end at the end of any chapter. If I live another decade, I will be able to see my grandchildren through school and married. I do believe these will be pleasant pictures to see. I would theta want to see their children and watch them grow up into wonderful young people. Let me die in hope for good things for them. My age and limitations in health let me know that the end of the last chapter in my case is near. Since family, brethren in Christ, and my hope of the crown have made my life pleasant, I am willing for the end to come. The chapter of helpless senility is one I do not desire to write. May the Lord spare me that period of life.
I can easily look back and see many events of the past, but I can look ahead only by the eye of faith. I find myself as hopeful as I was when I passed by the principal for my diploma and went back to my seat fifty years ago. The vapor of my life has appeared for a little while, and it must soon vanish. There will be a new generation moving ahead into the future. My hope is that that generation will accomplish more than my own has. Let spiritual values be appreciated more in the future. May there come a great awakening of interest in the Bible.
Life does not consist of the abundance of things possessed. Ideals, friendships, love, principles, hope, and heaven’s approval are far more important than things. Happiness is a by-product of the abundant life, and it is not to be bought at the market place. The very best things of life remain with us in greater abundance after we have shared them with others.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 28, pp. 454-455
July 17, 1980