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To the Class of 2018: Turning Grief Into Hope

Graduation Day can be the best and worst 24 hours of your life. Trust me, I know. Over my 60 years, I've personally been through six graduations.

Graduation Day might be the best day of your life because you know you've finished a span of your educational career—and hopefully you finished well. It also might be the worst day of your life because you leave behind what's familiar—instructors, friends, even hallways and classrooms that have become like a second home.

Whether it's a good day, bad day, or a mix of both, what all graduates should have in common on this important occasion is a rack of great memories associated with whatever school you're leaving behind.

Sadly, that's not the case for many graduates these days.

The escalating numbers of school shootings in America have reduced too many graduations to crisis moments, when missing classmates who should have walked with their peers to collect their diplomas are painfully absent. In many commencement exercises this year, as in years past, names will be read in haunting memoriam, and soberly vivid scenes of dead classmates will blur an otherwise exhilarating day for grieving students and parents alike. This sad situation must never, ever become normalized.

The Psalmist said, "My soul is weary with sorrow . . ." (Ps 119:28a). So should be the souls of all who have had to experience the horror of a school shooting; who must live with the sadness, scars, nightmares and the fear that it may happen again. We should all be weary at a time and culture when people sigh and say, "There's nothing we can do about it." We should be weary at the voices that claim the only way to eliminate a mortal threat on school grounds is to make fortresses out of our buildings, erect barriers around fields and tracks that make athletes invisible to those they used to visually inspire, and place heavily armed guards and weapon-wielding teachers at classroom doors, in cafeterias and on rooftops, as if students were inmates and school buildings were penitentiaries.

It does not need to be this way.

Those of you who are graduating this season—from grammar schools to high schools, and graduate schools to doctoral programs—know this. You already understand that a downward vision for the future of our schools is not the solution. We can look upward instead. Up is the direction of faith and optimism. Up is the direction of hope. Yet one lesson we all learn in school is that achieving any vision takes hard work. It will take all of us working together to realize a future where a student's only worry is whether he or she finished their homework, is on time for class or is prepared for the next exam. No student should start a day, or finish a class, or walk on stage to collect a hard-earned diploma worrying if somebody will open fire on them.

This graduation season, let's all hope, let's all pray, let's all work hard in faith, believing that we can do what is necessary to return our schools to places of learning, of friendship and of equipping as they once were, and end this period of fear, anxiety and mourning. If today's political, civic and religious leaders can't get us there, then with the help of God, you—the extraordinary young people who are graduating over the next few weeks—certainly can...

Congratulations and thank you, Class of 2018! You bring us all hope for a safer, more peaceful, less violent tomorrow.

The Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck is an ordained evangelical minister and president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, located in Washington, DC. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Faith Evangelical Seminary in Tacoma, Washington and is a senior fellow of The Centre for the Study of Law and Public Policy at Oxford. Rev. Schenck is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning documentary, The Armor of Light, and a member of the leadership team for Survivor Sunday, a day of remembrance for the 30,000 lives lost annually to gun violence. He is the author of Costly Grace, due to be released by HarperCollins in June of 2018.

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