A Charge to the Class of 2007: "Everything I Learned about Life I Learned Coaching Tee-Ball"

Last weekend I was honored to give the Charge to the Class of 2007 at ACU's May Commencement. Given that many of the themes of that Charge have occupied us on this blog, I thought I'd share with you a sketch of my talk. Note that what follows is not a transcript as about 75% of it was story-telling and working without notes. The take-home points I did read and these are the parts in quotes below. The first and third pictures were taken by my wife and the second was taken by Katie, our good friend.

Taking a cue from Robert Fulghum's Everything I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten I entitled my Charge:

Everything I Learned about Life I Learned Coaching Tee-Ball

Lesson 1: You don’t keep score in Tee-Ball. (Well, you learn to keep score in a different way.)
If you have ever seen a tee-ball game, you know why we don't keep score. I'm reminded of the time during a game when I turned around and found the entire left side of my team (infield and outfield) missing. They were huddled together in a little group out in center-field. Confused, I called to them, "Hey Team! Why aren't you in your positions?" A scared little voice called back: "Ants!" Apparently, my second-basemen saw an ant and freaked out half my team.

Welcome to West Texas, where the children run from ants.

So you can see why we don't keep score in tee-ball. But, actually, we do keep score. We just keep score in a different way. We don't keep track of outs or runs or errors. But we do keep score in the currency of relationships and friendships.

So I said to the graduates: "Class of 2007, this world keeps score. It has its measures of success. Often in ways that are destructive, mean-spirited, and petty. But we want to encourage you to keep score in a different way. To measure your success in life the way we do in tee ball, by the depth and breath of the relationships you have in your life. For in your family and in your friendships will lie your greatest and most lasting successes."

Lesson 2: The most important thing is the snack
After every tee-ball game there is a snack. Usually a drink with some cookies. For whatever reason this is the most anticipated thing for the kids. It is THE MOST important thing. Even more important than the game itself. (I actually pulled out some goldfish crackers and Capri-Suns during the talk stating that I was under the assumption that the commencement speaker was in charge of snacks. It was great fun handing out snacks after the ceremony.)

Why is the snack so important? My kids eat these snacks everyday. It is ordinary fare. But there is something extraordinary and magical (supernatural?) that happens when we share food and drink with new friends and old.

So I said to the graduates: "It is a striking feature of the Christian faith that the central symbol of our worship is a family meal. And like in tee ball, sharing that meal symbolizes the great vision of our faith: We are all family. We are to live in a world as if there were no strangers. Class of 2007, I challenge you to live out that vision. Live in the world as if there were no strangers."

Lesson 3: Some people need a tee to get into the game
In tee-ball you see a wide spread of talent. Some kids can hit the ball out of the air while others cannot. For these kids we use the tee. Some people need a little help to get into the game.

My point to the graduates: "Class or 2007, you are a mix of hard work and blessing. We celebrate your hard work today. But we pause to note that you are also extraordinarily blessed. Not everyone gets to go to college or get a graduate degree. Not everyone gets to attend ACU. And not everyone gets the support of family ringing you today. In sum, not everyone in this world is as blessed as you are. Some people need a tee to get into the game. Class of 2007, I challenge you to continue to work in the world to help people tee it up. We call that justice. Work on behalf of the weak and the poor and the marginalized. Take all your hard work and blessing and focus it into leaving this world better than how you found it."

Lesson 4: At the end of the game everyone comes home.
At the end of every tee-ball game, when the last batter hits, everyone runs home. That is how the game ends. Everyone comes home.

So my final point: "Class of 2007, home plate tells us how and where to run. And the same is true in life. We are surrounded by home today. And those homes have helped define your direction in life.

But we all know that our true home is not of this world. As the old hymn says, 'This world is not my home, I’m just a’passing through.' Class of 2007, the greatest lesson of tee ball is this: Know where home plate is. It will define how you run the race. Many have gone before us, and we will scatter across the globe after this ceremony. But if we remember where home plate is, we will all gather once again, along with a great cloud of witnesses who are watching us today.

Enjoy the game, Class of 2007, and when it’s over we’ll see you at home plate."

The End

During the morning ceremony my family could not attend since, ironically, the boys had a baseball game. (Thanks to Greg who stood in for me as coach!) They rushed from the game to the afternoon ceremony to hear me. It was great to see them arrive in their baseball uniforms given the topic of my Charge:

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9 thoughts on “A Charge to the Class of 2007: "Everything I Learned about Life I Learned Coaching Tee-Ball"

  1. Richard:

    Great charge to the students (and to the parents). Glad there weren't any ants around!

    I'll bet your boys think your cap and gown is cool.


    George C.

  2. Brilliant! What a creative "Charge" to send the graduates off with!

    I'm saddened that the first May Commencement I have skipped out on in the past 6 years was the one where you gave the "Charge to the Class", but at the same time, I'm happy as they made a PERFECT selection for the speaker!

    Congrats to you for the honor!

  3. Man. It made me really sad that I had to turn down speaking at the same event that you did man.

    It would have been a good thing.

    p.s. I really liked your quote from the last post,

    "The easy choices are rarely the Godly choices."

    (By the way, where did that post go? Did people get upset and ask you to take it down? If that's the case, that "rule" needs to be applied to this blog commenting thing).

  4. Yes, this pretty much confirms that you are the most brillant professor ever. You rock Dr. Beck!!!!

  5. It could be that how we live our life can make our afterlife better or worse (the home plate analogy), but I'm not sure I'm big into heaven being used as this motivator for good behavior. I think the "new kingdom" that Jesus inaugurated is here, now. Many of your posts imply that you do as well. That our actions should be motivated by a desire to see this kingdom come in fullness (in a physical, real sense). We want the world to be a better place. We want peace and justice for all the world. We want the personal fullness that comes from living our lives well. These are worthy goals without invoking "this world is not my home..." In other words, I'm not sure that the afterlife is the best thing to define how we "run the race." The present reality is enough for me...

  6. It was a great speech, Richard. My family and I loved it. And I'm honored that you used my picture. :)

  7. Dr. Beck,

    I was fortunate enough to be on the front row receiving my Doctor of Ministry degree the morning of your speech. It was the best commencement address I have heard; and trust me, I have sat through plenty.

  8. Having lived in west texas for more than 10 years now, I've seen the ants we have out here and they're not to be taken lightly, especially when your small and they're half your size.

    Thank you Dr. Beck. As a recent graduate of ACU again (Dec 2001/06) I have been blessed by the way you use your intellect in a way to help people deal with the difficulties of their lives.

  9. I didn't get to hear this live, but this was a beautiful charge! How true that our Christian life is so similiar to a tee ball game! Thanks for sharing this inspiring charge. God bless.

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