Finding Courage, Finding Calling

by William C. Placher

May 14, 2006

An edited excerpt from Professor Bill Placher's sermon for the 168th Baccalaureate Service at Wabash College.

Twelve and a half years ago, Wabash President Andy Ford delivered an inaugural address as the new president of Wabash, calling on his audience to be as audacious as were those young Presbyterian ministers kneeling in the forest on the edge of the frontier at the founding of our college. The environment for liberal arts colleges today, he noted, is harsher and more threatening than the blowing snow that chilled our founders.

At his insistence, today is the celebration of the college’s graduating class and not its 14th president. But let me honor him by following his example and commending audaciousness to you. When you leave the Chapel this morning, you will walk out onto a campus where most of the buildings, just for a start, have been built or remodeled under the leadership of this audacious president.

So find a spot somewhere—a job, a community, a family–where you can be audacious too.

Some of you will put the lessons you’ve learned at Wabash and elsewhere about service and compassion and courage into immediate and dramatic practice. From recent classes, I think of Jeremy Wright, serving in Afghanistan until he was killed, Jeremy Robinson teaching in the toughest inner city school in Chicago, A.J. Lyman working with Americorps on the Gulf Coast, Nick Myers teaching English in Nicaragua. I applaud those who will follow their examples.

But some of you will find you have to get through med school or law school or grad school or make some money before you can start to make the kind of difference you want to make. Don’t apologize for that.

Some of you will make differences in undramatic ways. The one lawyer in town who will help a controversial client, the executive who holds others in the company to a higher standard of integrity, the chemist who coaches generations of kids in youth soccer, the gay man who challenges stereotypes simply by being open about his sexuality, the husband who helps his wife through addiction, the parent of a handicapped child, the victim of depression sticking by his job and family in the midst of internal darkness. There’s a lot of courage out there, in many different forms. And we find that courage, most often, when we find we have been called.

The novelist and preacher Frederick Buechner says that your calling comes where your greatest job meets the world’s greatest need—where the rewards for your best and most authentic self meet work that needs doing for the love of the world. It may take you a while and a few false starts to find such a calling—that’s okay—for right now, some of you may be called to search for your vocation by trying out a number of thing or moving to the big city to see what happens—that’s okay too. But I pray that there will be voices to guide you to what you are truly called to do.


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