Most schools just finished with another academic year and have graduated another class of students. Graduation services have been held. Here in Jefferson, GA, two male athletes stood in the position of valedictorian and salutatorian. Evan Shirreffs, the valedictorian, who was the quarterback for the football team has a scholarship to the University of Miami and Chase Piperato, the salutatorian, is an individual state champion on the high school state champion wrestling team with a scholarship pinned down to Princeton. Wow! Whatever happened to dumb jocks?
One thing I noticed unchanged at graduation was this announcement from the principal just before the handing out of diplomas: “Please hold your applause until all names have been called as everyone has a right to hear his or her name called.”
I leaned over to my wife and said, “Fat chance that will happen. I’ll give it about three names.”
The names of the valedictorian and salutatorian were called and applause was respectfully withheld. But on the third name, a small contingent of fans from a far corner of the stadium could be heard clapping.
From that moment on, more students than not had people clapping, cheering, calling out their names, standing, setting off air horns, ringing cow bells, shouting or waving to their dear child that had now become an adult with a high school diploma. Even the members of the band that had respectfully played The National Anthem and Pomp and Circumstance, had selected members to cheer for and even held up signs for. They just couldn’t hold back the joy.
There was even one man that stood on the edge of the track cheering for select members of the class, none of whom were kin to him, and when the name of one of the students was called, he unashamedly walked out onto the field and gave the student a hug!
I have attended many graduation ceremonies, including those of my own sons, who have high school and college degrees. I have attended the ceremony of Henry Peabody, whom we brought from Liberia and helped educate at Mercer University. Like all of these other parents, I have sat and felt proud of them as they received their degrees.
I also thought I had taught them to be respectful and reverent at these events. Members of the Helms family are different
from all those loud cowbell ringing, air horn blowing, hand clapping, name calling, arm waving yahoos that stand up and interrupt a formal service like a graduation to express themselves like they were at a football game. We are a reserved and quiet bunch. We share our joy and admiration in ways that do not impose on everyone else.
Seventeen months ago, Ryan, our younger son, and Alyssa were married. The day before they married, Alyssa graduated from the University of Tennessee. We had good seats many rows up in a large auditorium on the campus of the college. Tina and I were seated with Ryan, John, and Alyssa’s best friend from high school. Alyssa’s parents were seated on the floor level of the auditorium.
There were hundreds of students in Alyssa’s graduating class. We found her seated up front among the honor graduates and we waited patiently and with excitement for that brief moment to see her walk across the stage and receive her diploma.
As names were called, just like in Jefferson, there was the typical clapping and cheering, but it sort of got lost in the big auditorium. Occasionally, some graduate had a large contingent of followers present that made quite a bit of noise. However, I don’t recall any obnoxious air horns or cowbells. But what I will never forget is that when Alyssa’s name was called, our son stood up and in the loudest voice possible yelled, “I’M GOING TO MARRY HER TOMORROW!”
His voice bounced off the rafters and zigzagged across the auditorium and made its way to the stage and you could see the faces of people everywhere respond with smiles and you could hear laughter move around the auditorium like a wave. I, of course, was shocked and a bit stunned that my son had just broken an unspoken Helms rule.
The professor handing out Alyssa’s diploma asked, “You are getting married tomorrow?” “Yes, sir,” she responded.
“Congratulations,” he said.
As the names of the other graduates were called, I sat there thinking, “That was my son that stood up in front of 20,000 people to announce his intentions to marry Alyssa. This was unbridled joy that caused him to do that. He meant no disrespect. He just wanted everyone to know how happy he was and how much he loved Alyssa.”
In that moment I began to understand those I had always cast judgment on for cheering for their children, grandchildren, and friends at these events. They have been cheering for them all their lives and as they show up for one of the most important events in the lives of their child, they are asked to hold their applause. There is so much joy and so much emotion inside of them at that moment, many cannot hold it in. Most do not mean any disrespect. They just want to show a little love and express
a little joy.
What if we lived more of our days with unbridled joy? What if joy flowed over our days like that more often? What if we had so much joy in us that it oozed out like melted cheese between bread? What if it oozed out like sap from a tree? What if we were so joyful that it spilled out onto people in a restaurant, at the gas station, at work, at the ball field, while walking the dog, when we exercised, at church, while we are out with friends –it just came out—unbridled?
This kind of joy is possible for the person who recognizes Jesus’ constant presence in his or her life. Joy dissipates like a puddle on a hot summer day when we lose touch with Jesus’ presence. Even when circumstances say, “There is no joy here,” joy can still be present because of Jesus. Why? Because joy isn’t tied totally to circumstances. Joy comes from within and that happens because of our relationship with Jesus. This is the reason the Apostle Paul could write to the church at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
How we feel and express our joy varies from person to person. Some people are more reserved than others. I typically am in that category. However, there should be enough joy in our lives that it’s noticeable by others and that it’s contagious. Whether we stand up and shout it to the world, or whether our joy is shared in a bit more reserved way, God must smile when our joy becomes unbridled. Like a calf running and kicking in a field, sometimes we just need to cut loose and shout to the world the joy we feel inside.