Russell and Duenes

Redwood Christian High School 2012 Graduation Speech: You’re Ordinary People

with 8 comments

Here’s the text – though not the word-for-word delivery – of the graduation speech I gave this year for Redwood Christian High School’s commencement. It was an immense joy and privilege to be back with old colleagues, students, and close friends. God is good!

Mr. Johnson, Mr. Hearne, Members of the Board, and the Class of 2012. . .I want to thank you very much for having me here to speak. It is an honor and a joy beyond words to see your glorious faces and to be with you again. And to you, Class of 2012, what a wonderful privilege to be able to address you, one last time.

You know, two nights ago, I had a speech all ready to go for you. It was all typed out, and biblical and all, and I thought it was pretty good. It WAS good; I’m sorry you won’t get to hear it. And then I decided to run it by my wife. She liked it well enough, but she said to me, “You know, you’ve listened to 10 years of graduation speeches at Redwood, and now it’s your one chance to say something. I mean, they’ve flown you out here. Is that really what you want to say?” And I said, “Well, what I really want to say is. . .” and so you’ll get the speech that I really wanted to give, which is probably better any way.

We graduation speakers like to talk about how great you are and about all the great things you’re going to do and all the unique opportunities you have to change the world and be the generation that does what no one has ever done before. We like to pump you up about how successful you’re all going to be. But I think we ought to speak frankly about greatness and success. Please understand, I’m not trying to downplay greatness or success, it’s just that I think God has a very different idea about these things than most of us have, and I hope you’ll think about what greatness and success mean for you as you go.

The reality is, you’re ordinary people, I’m an ordinary person, we’re ordinary people and we’re going to be living ordinary lives. What do I mean by that? I mean, you’ll be doing the same things that most people are doing. In the next few years you’ll have to do what most people your age do: You’ll have to get yourself out of bed in the mornings and make yourself presentable. Most of you will head off to some classes and you’ll take some kind of a job if you don’t have one already. You’ll study some and you might head down to the local Starbucks and hang out with some friends. You might watch some TV and do other social things, and if you’re away at college you’ll lob your parents a phone call every now and then and this will be your life.

And then when you’re done you’ll take your place in society like other Americans and you’ll do many of the same things that they’re doing: going off to work, making meals, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, trying to please your boss, cleaning your daughter’s spit up off the floor, folding the laundry, having that conversation with your husband or wife about who’s going to pick up what child, where and when, and how they’re going to get to their 15 activities this week, and hopefully you’ll be involved in Christian fellowship at your local church, along with 10,000 other things that make up daily life. IT’S ALL HORRIBLY UNROMANTIC AND UNSENTIMENTAL. But you know, Jesus is quite unromantic and unsentimental about life, because He knows the reality of how it’s lived.

Now don’t get me wrong, some of you may do things that are out-of –the ordinary. I have a number of friends who work overseas for Christ, and I support and encourage their work and would be thrilled if that’s what you did. And maybe one of you will be the next Bill Gates or Albert Einstein or Condaleeza Rice. But even if you ARE, Jesus will not measure your greatness and success mainly by your public achievements. Rather, He will measure your success by  your ordinary and daily in’s and out’s of relating to your parents and children and spouses and co-workers and neighbors. These are the measures of true greatness, and as I said, Jesus measures these things in a very unromantic and unsentimental way.

That’s why He says crazy things like, “Take up your cross daily” and “Whoever would be greatest among you must be least of all and servant of all.” He says, “Whoever would try to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the kingdom, will save it for eternal life.” Or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which is a truly radical command when you stop and consider what it means.

And, of course, Jesus actually DID these things. In His earthly life He wasn’t a statesman or a political leader – though I suppose He could have been had He wanted to. He never ran a multi-billion dollar corporation. He composed no great musical works nor created any great paintings. That we know of, He never wrote anything of significance. Aside from the miracles, there wasn’t a lot that the world would consider “extraordinary,” which may explain why the world disregards him so widely these days. But Jesus understands life better than we do.

No one who has ever lived or ever will live was greater than Jesus, because only Jesus fully and completely trusted God and “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Only Jesus fully “loved his neighbor as himself.” Only Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” And what was the upshot of all this? The Bible tells us that “God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Submission to God in the love and service of others is true greatness, and what the world desperately needs more than anything else is men and women with that sort of greatness.

Now of course, you cannot hope to do this in your own power. This kind of greatness comes with humility and dependence upon God. And because Jesus died on that cross and because He gives you His Holy Spirit by faith, you CAN live that kind of greatness and success in your every day, rubber meets the road, ordinary lives.

Perhaps you think I’ve given you a mundane or boring description of life. Perhaps you think life should be a bit more exciting or compelling than what I’ve described. But I assure you, these ordinary daily things we must attend to are the VERY STUFF OF LIFE. They are NOT the necessary evils we HAVE to do to keep things going. I think I’m only beginning to learn this myself. Chasing my son around the yard for the 10th time when I’m tired is the stuff of life. Helping a co-worker solve a difficult problem is the stuff of life. Putting your children through a Christian education is the stuff of life – and believe me, your parents and others have put you through your Christian education at great sacrifice and ordinary labor. Doing dishes, mopping the floor, making the beds, reading to your children, going to parent-teacher meetings, carpooling your kids, taking care of a sick relative, or sitting by your parent’s bedside as they slip into eternity…this is the stuff of life. We avoid it at our peril. And Jesus assures us that serving others in His name and in His power is the best life of all. “I have come,” He says, “that you might have life and have it to the full.” His life of serving others is our model for having that fullness of life.

So, Class of 2012, go out into the world, but as you do, in Christ’s name, lay down your lives for others. Give yourselves to the ultimate good of others. Serve them for the sake of Christ, in the ordinary daily life that you lead, and in so doing, live true greatness.

Thank you.



Written by Michael Duenes

June 11, 2012 at 6:32 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Thank you Mr. Duenes for flying out to deliver your speech to the class of 2012! There could not have been a more appropriate person to speak to this class! I know that they all love you and we’re sincerely touched not only by your words but by your presence!
    You word was profound, and hit them right where they are. You have been a blessing in their lives and now I pray that all those blessings will return to you and yours 100 fold!
    God Bless you Mr. Duenes!
    Jeanne Shaddle

    Jeanne K. Shaddle

    June 11, 2012 at 7:15 pm

  2. Great words MD. Amen to “They are NOT the necessary evils we HAVE to do to keep things going. I think I’m only beginning to learn this myself.” Particularly the latter…

    Andy M

    June 12, 2012 at 8:19 am

  3. Mike …. I so much enjoy reading your stuff. I hope our paths will cross before long. Ed Lassiter

    Ed Lassiter

    June 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    • Me too, Ed. Lord willing.


      russell and duenes

      June 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm

  4. MD! Great speech. It sounded similar to David McCullough Jr.’s graduation speech, only with the more hopefully overtone to live Christ-like.


    June 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm

  5. I was looking for inspiring words to graduates in our church newsletter and came across your speech. I would like your permission to use part of your speech in our newsletter.

    Colleen Morrison

    May 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

    • You have my permission. Use them freely.


      russell and duenes

      May 25, 2014 at 11:18 am

  6. I was surfing the net for “great speeches by ordinary people”… This popped up… Thank you so much!!! God Bless you more…


    August 12, 2015 at 3:12 pm

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