This post “Don’t Stop Now. It’s Never Over at Halftime” is a slightly edited version of the graduation address I delivered at Trinity Academy, Portland in June 2019. I wish to thank Dr. Joannah Clark, Head of School, for permission to publish it here. My daughter Julianne graduated from Trinity in 2020. My reason for publishing the piece now is twofold: first, students from across the country and world have graduated from various schools and institutions over the past several weeks; second, we received an encouraging report this week from a neurologist who is “cautiously optimistic” that my son Christopher, who endured a traumatic brain injury in January, will experience a meaningful recovery. What I wrote below in 2019 is as true now as it was then for graduates and the rest of us who struggle to live and flourish. It is never over at halftime.
Have you ever watched a game that looked like it was over at halftime, but was far from it? Perhaps the team that was ahead let down their guard and coasted the second half, while the team that was trailing corrected their mistakes, turned it around, and won the game?
This reversal of fortune from the world of sports can serve as a parable for life: it’s never over at halftime. What does this have to do with graduation? Yes, you’ve graduated. Congratulations on your very hard work! Well done! You’ve made it! You deserve all the recognition this day provides. However, don’t stop now and bask forever in the glory. You’ve only just begun. It’s never over at halftime.
Here I call to mind the following biblical text—Ecclesiastes 7:8: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and patience is better than presumption.” You’ve come to the end of your time at Trinity Academy, but also to a new beginning.
Well actually, you’re not quite done at Trinity. You still have to endure my commencement address, which may prove more difficult and seemingly longer than all your rigorous studies over your years at Trinity. Keep going! You can make it!
All joking aside (you did know I was joking about this talk, right?!), you’ve come a long way, and you have earned the respect of your excellent administrators, teachers, and board, as well as your devoted families, who are here to celebrate you today. Here’s what Dr. Clark had to say about you (alphabetically ordered)—Claire, Davis, Devyn, Emmanuel, Ian, Kevin, Luke, and Max:
They are a group of students with diverse interests: a rower, a swimmer, a basketball player, singers, actors, a linguist, a statistics lover, a philosophy lover, an astronomy lover, musicians, composers, artists, leaders. Yet, they have learned to value and appreciate each other and work very well as a team.
They are ALL humble. They have all been incredibly kind and welcoming to the younger students, leading them, making things fun for them and setting a good example of the love of learning.
Wow! I must confess I got a bit proud just reading this endorsement of each and all of you given that I have the privilege and honor of speaking at your graduation. Well done! You have much to be proud of in an appropriate, honorable way. This leads me to the next point.
Based on the ringing endorsement I just read, you have already accomplished quite a lot as you come to graduation. No doubt, you will achieve other important goals in life, just so long as you stay humble and don’t become presumptuous. Patience is far better than presumption—that is, acting as if one has arrived, has made it big, and can coast the rest of the way in life, as Ecclesiastes 7:8 indicates—and the ultimate end is far better than your next beginning that awaits you after this day. Just as you have done so here at Trinity, see things through to the end, being diligent and patient to achieve your desired goals. My hope and prayer for each of you is that you will not give up or coast at halftime but persevere with wisdom, discipline, and patience until the end. Don’t stop now. You’ve only just begun.
Dr. Karl Kutz, the Hebrew professor at Multnomah University whose translation of Ecclesiastes 7:8 I quoted above, shared with me an example that unpacks this biblical text. His niece graduated from high school several years ago. During the ceremony, the school made known the plans of all the graduates. She was embarrassed, as it was announced that all the other graduates were going off to four-year colleges, while she was heading off to beauty school. Interestingly, none of the other graduates she knew completed their course of college studies or worked in their intended careers, whereas she runs her own beauty parlor business today. She was patient, not presumptuous, nor pessimistic. She kept her head and heart and hopes moving forward. Her life was not over at high school graduation, as embarrassed as she was at the time. After all, it was only halftime.
With the preceding points in mind about patience and diligence as being more important than presumption, and that life is never over at halftime, I would like you to join me in the following imaginative thought experiment:
Can you imagine what would have happened to Israel if Queen Esther had thought she had arrived after being crowned queen? What if she had refused to leave the comfort of her royal chamber and had not knocked without invitation at the King’s throne room door to begin the hard, scary work of advocating for her people? What if she had refused to leave the comfort and safety of her elevated status and sheltered existence and had not resisted the evil Haman who desired to destroy her people? Perhaps the Jewish people would have been wiped out throughout the Persian Empire and perhaps there would be no awareness of Queen Esther today.
Can you imagine what we would be like if the Lord Jesus had stopped after conquering Satan during the wilderness temptation, or after feeding the five thousand, or after raising Lazarus from the dead? If Jesus had not endured the cross and despised its shame, if he had not risen from the dead, we’d still be dead in our sins. If Jesus does not return, we have no hope that he will conquer evil once and for all, eliminate suffering, and make all things new.
Can you imagine what our country would be like if Abraham Lincoln had not run for President after all his disheartening political losses and failures, or if he had stopped the Union army from advancing after the victory at Gettysburg, or after delivering his now famous Gettysburg Address? Who knows? There might not have been a second inaugural address for these United States, and slavery might still be in place.
Can you imagine what our city and country would be like if Rosa Parks had not refused to move on that bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, if she had just given in after centuries of her people being displaced, relocated, and pushed around? We might still have segregated public transport and schools in various places across the land, and there would be no Rosa Parks Way today here in Portland. If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had committed suicide, as he tried to do as a child, or as he was tempted to do as an adult given his recurring bouts with severe depression and pressures he faced, what would have happened to his beloved community dream for America and the world beyond racism, economic exploitation, and militarism?
Can you imagine what it would be like if Thomas Edison had given up after his 10,000th failure? Where would we be without his resilience? We might be sitting here in the dark! Consider these lines in a Smithsonian article titled “7 Epic Fails Brought to You By the Genius Mind of Thomas Edison” with the tagline, “Despite popular belief, the inventor wasn’t the ‘Wiz’ of everything.”:
Thomas Edison was one of the most successful innovators in American history. He was the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” a larger-than-life hero who seemed almost magical for the way he snatched ideas from thin air.
Edison’s response calls to mind the following quote from Maria Montessori: “Every great cause is born from repeated failures and from imperfect achievements.”
Consider, too, the following: according to Encyclopedia Brittanica, “Louis Pasteur was an average student in his early years.” A quote attributed to Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, and dated 1872, reads: ‘Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.’”
Keep in mind what Samuel Beckett wrote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Talk about resilience. Well, let’s talk about it, over and over again.
Can you imagine what would have happened during WW2 if we were to replace “never” with “sometimes” or “always” in the following lines from Winston Churchill delivered in 1941 at Harrow School?
never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you give up on your dream after coming so far due to some major disappointment or struggle, or coasting the rest of your life because you think you’ve already arrived? Remember the ultimate end is far better than the beginning for those who start well, or for those who falter along the way. Remember it’s never over at halftime.
If it weren’t for people not giving up on me, when I was younger, if they had thought my life was over at halftime, I would not be standing before you presently. My parents never gave up on me, nor my mentors. If I had ended my life or destroyed my life when I was younger, as I nearly did, I would not be married, or have children, or a granddaughter, or the privilege of celebrating your accomplishments this day.
A pastor friend of mine encouraged and exhorted me a while ago never to give up on others. Keep praying for them, he said. He told me about his step-brother who was going nowhere fast in life. Most people expected that he would never accomplish anything and would never surrender his life to Jesus Christ. My pastor friend went on to say that his step-brother used to tear out the pages in the Bible someone gave him to make rolling paper for joints. But then, one day, he decided to read the freshly torn out page from the Bible. Convicted by what he read, he surrendered his life to Jesus on the spot and his life was turned around.
One of Multnomah University’s students named Ana Wakefield was driving to school for basketball practice in the early morning on October 18, 2017. A driver in a stolen vehicle, who was under the influence, drove the car across the center line and crashed head on into Ana’s vehicle. He ran away from the scene, while Ana remained—motionless, unconscious. Ana nearly died from the traumatic brain injury and other deep wounds. She underwent five brain surgeries and endured total rehab for a very long and excruciatingly painful time period. Due to Ana and her family and friends never giving up, she is back at school and now is in my summer theology class. Ana has not given up on the young man who hit her either. At his sentencing to jail, Ana said: “We are imperfect people, I want you to know that I have forgiven you. I will carry the scars of your mistake every day for the rest of my life, but if you ever need the care and support of a faithful friend, I will always be there, ready to listen and help.” Given that Jesus has forgiven her, Ana knew she had to forgive him. Ana realizes it is NEVER over at halftime.
This talk flies in the face of our culture of expediency and convenience. Expedient relationships, diets, success, etc.
Honor the process and struggle. No pain. No real gain. I’ve never met a deep person who hasn’t gone through deep struggle. If your desired goals are easy to attain, you’ve sold yourself and others short.
When your goals are difficult to attain, don’t stop. Keep going. Those who are successful are all too often living in the past, as Bernard Shaw was reported to have said. So, no matter how successful you have been at Trinity because of your hard work, don’t stop. The next end is always better than the next beginning.
And for those of you who have failed at various points along the way, as I have done, don’t call it quits. Allow your failures to become your basis for further motivation. Sometimes failures are our best teachers, and the stepping stones for greater growth and victory.
Claire, Davis, Devyn, Emmanuel, Ian, Kevin, Luke, and Max, and everyone else gathered here to celebrate you and your graduation, remember the biblical text with which we began. We come to it here again as we close. Ecclesiastes 7:8 reads: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and patience is better than presumption.”
Whether we have an accident on the road or clear sailing in life, a failure in a course or straight A’s, a broken relationship or family, or perfect spouses and parents and children, it’s never over at halftime. So, keep going. Never give up or coast. Be patient, not presumptuous. Never take your successes and healthy relationships for granted. Never give up on restoring what’s broken and seeking restoration. Continue to cultivate your gifts and relationships. Continue to learn and correct your mistakes. Keep pressing forward with all due diligence. Remember: It’s never over at halftime.