The 2013 Valedictory Address
Full transcript of Rachelle DeJong’s speech
On Saturday, May 11th, The King’s College held its annual Commencement exercises to honor the graduation of the class of 2013. Students reflected on their four years, received their diplomas, and were accepted into The King’s College Alumni Association. The event was held at Trinity Wall St., located a block from campus. The Honorable Allen West, a well decorated war veteran and former U.S. representative from Florida’s 22nd district, delivered the keynote address.
The Valedictory address was delivered by Rachelle DeJong, who graduated at the top of her class. During her career at King’s, Rachelle also invested herself in numerous extracurricular activities like the House of Clara Barton, The King’s Debate Society, and Interregnum. In her speech, DeJong reminisced about the journey that the Class of 2013 undertook four years ago. She also charged her fellow graduates to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”
The full transcript of her speech is below.
I am honored and humbled to be here today, celebrating our graduation from The King’s College. Thank you, classmates, for four years of studying together, each of us playing for the other the role of the iron that sharpens iron. Thank you, professors, for the time you have invested into our lives by teaching us and mentoring us, modeling the wisdom, intellectual curiosity, and spiritual maturity that we also aspire to exhibit. And thank you, to our parents, who were brave enough to let us go to the biggest city in the United States, and who prayed for us and supported us in so many ways.
It is customary when graduating to reflect on the memories and stories we’ve had after four years of college. Think back to new student orientation at the beginning of our freshman year, fall 2009. We were at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, and before we signed the honor code, each professor came on stage to welcome us as the incoming King’s College class of 2013.
Our English professors sang a modified rendition of the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away” to warn us of what we might feel like doing after we saw the grades on our first College Writing I papers. Professor Brenberg and Dr. Puffert advised us to be careful with our time, giving us a visual depiction of what a Kingsian reading load was like. Professor Brenberg handed poor Dr. Puffert stack after stack after stack of anthologies, textbooks, primary sources, newspapers, and magazines, to hint at what we were in for. (Now, four years later, I don’t think they exaggerated too much.)
Dr. Innes gave us four words to live by. He told us that if we wanted to succeed at King’s, we had to “seek, read, think, and exceed.”
“Our model is Daniel, the Israelite in the Old Testament who defied the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar and yet was promoted to vice regent in Babylon, the world power of his day.”
We’ve certainly done the reading and thinking, as our overburdened bookcases and bleary eyes can attest. And in many regards we’ve done the “exceeding,” putting in long hours to go well beyond the minimum expectations in pursuit of excellence.
But recall the first of the four injunctions. We must watch what we seek.
King’s has a noble vision of influencing the pillars of our society, bringing Christian leaders and Christian values to the institutions that shape our culture. As students who chose to come here, and now as graduates about to leave, we have adopted this vision as our own. Our model is Daniel, the Israelite in the Old Testament who defied the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar and yet was promoted to vice regent in Babylon, the world power of his day.
We are right to aspire to influence, but sometimes we want it too badly, confusing influence on earth for treasure in heaven. C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Weight of Glory” that, being made for heaven, we desire glory, but still living on earth, we mistake the proper object of that desire, and in our confusion we long for recognition on earth. To set our desires straight, we should remember Jesus’ words, both a command and a promise: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
“In many regards, the Christian calling is frustratingly indefinite.”
Our primary calling is to glorify God, pursuing righteousness and faithfulness in the tasks He has already given to us. In many regards, the Christian calling is frustratingly indefinite. “Seek the kingdom.” “Draw nigh to God.” “Take up your cross and follow me.” But follow where? How? For how long? To what field, to what task, to what institution? We walk as did Abram, who was called out of Ur before he knew where he was called to.
Yet, these questions, the wheres, the whens, the hows, take on secondary significance when we realize the depth of our calling simply to Christ. And we find that, as we follow Christ, He shows us our more specific callings as vessels of His work on earth. Sometimes, that call comes with blinding clarity, Damascus Road-style; more often it comes quietly, in a still small voice that we risk missing in the noisy tumult of our daily hubbub. In order to hear that calling and complete the work it calls us to, we must seek the kingdom.
Remember Daniel: he never aimed to rule in Babylon. He sought first to obey God. And because he stood out among his peers as a wise young man, skilled and smart but above all spiritually minded, God rewarded him with leadership. Daniel purposed in his heart to obey God long before he became or even thought of becoming a ruler in the land.
“Paradoxically, when we give up our earthly aspirations to seek the eternal kingdom, we find that in the end, we have sacrificed nothing. The more we submit our desires to God, the more he fulfills our desires by changing them to fit what he has willed for us.”
Or consider William Wilberforce, who for 26 years in the British Parliament introduced a bill to outlaw slavery in Britain. When he became a Christian in his early twenties, Wilberforce submitted his career to God, offering to give up his political aspirations entirely. He returned to politics only after concluding that God had called him to lead a moral restoration. Wilberforce did not seek power and position, but sacrificed his reputation to stand for what was right.
Like Daniel, and like Wilberforce, if we hope to reach strategic institutions, we must stop seeking them. As temporal pieces of a temporal earth, these are too small a thing to aim for. Paradoxically, when we give up our earthly aspirations to seek the eternal kingdom, we find that in the end, we have sacrificed nothing. The more we submit our desires to God, the more he fulfills our desires by changing them to fit what he has willed for us. We find our interests most satisfied when we give them up. “By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants,” Lewis wrote, “I have begun to learn better what I really wanted.”
Rather than seek positions and hope to influence them for Christ, we should seek Christ, knowing that eternal glory and earthly influence follow as we become part of a plan much larger than our own. Like Susanna Wesley, whose years of prayer and devotion prepared her sons John and Charles to lead Britain’s spiritual revival, paving the way for the legal reforms that Wilberforce championed, we know that some of us will plant, some us will water, but only God can bring the increase. Our calling is to be faithful where we are now.
As we graduate, our vision is, in the words of the old hymn, to follow Jesus, perhaps to Capitol Hill, to Wall Street, to academia, to our families, to our communities, to the church. And no turning back. No turning back.
The King’s College educates students in the ideas upon which nations rise and fall. With a focused curriculum in the liberal arts tradition, students are prepared to help shape, and eventually to lead, the institutions of government, civil society, media, law, business, education, the arts, and the church. King’s is a Christian college located in New York City.