Shannon Spaulding studied and worked for twelve years to reach the top of her class at Jacksonville’s Samuel W. Wolfson High School. For achieving that academic achievement the Florida teen addressed her fellow graduates at the recent commencement ceremonies. I doubt that she suspected that her twenty minute address would fuel a national debate.
First, some background on the story. This report is from writer Doug Hunington of christianpost.com.
A high school valedictorian in Jacksonville, Fla., recently created a stir among attendants at her graduation when she shared about her faith in God and Jesus Christ throughout most of her 20-minute speech.
Shannon Spaulding received mixed reactions for the advice she offered fellow graduates of Samuel W. Wolfson High School during her commencement speech last Friday evening, which included accepting Christ into their lives.
While many expressed how her message was inappropriate for the setting, a majority of the audience seemed to agree with her message, applauding loudly throughout the speech.
“The best thing I can offer you tonight, my former classmates and fellow graduates, is to tell you how you can plan and know for sure that you will end up safe and victorious at the end of your earthly life,” explained Spaulding to the crowd at Veterans Memorial Arena, where the graduation ceremony was held. “I want to tell you that Jesus Christ can give you eternal life in Heaven.”
The student’s commencement message contained an exhortation to all to take Christ into their lives. The speech mixed in a number of scriptures, most which were followed by applause.
I debated whether I should link some sites that took great offense to Shannon’s sentiments. I was amazed, appalled, and depressed by the vitriolic level of some of the comments. This is an eighteen year old girl who shared what was important to her. Choose to disagree with her if you wish. Debate the appropriateness of the message in that venue if you disagree. But why must so many resort to ugly personal attacks and name calling? It left me shaken to read some of the responses. There are some angry people out there. I beg any followers of Jesus who read these remarks to speak the truth but only with grace and love. Please do not sink to that level of discourse.
A member of the school board in Jacksonville called Spaulding dishonorable and stated that she deceived the school principal about the content. The principal did not agree with that accusation and wondered where the school board representative got that information. I cannot imagine being a valedictorian (I really can’t imagine that), sharing my heart one day, and then being called dishonorable by a school board official the next day. That is an immediate and sobering post-graduation education about life.
I have read the speech. I can understand why her comments made some people uncomfortable. Shannon pulled no punches about her beliefs. Most of the bloggers who were mortally offended focused only on her brief comment about eternal judgement and hell. Headlines like “Valedictorian says you’re all going to hell” were common leads. And she did not gloss over the Christian belief of judgement. But out of nearly twenty minutes they chose to ignore the intent of her heart, whether you agree with her message or not. This comment summarized her heart.
“As I stand here before you tonight, it’s with the sincerest heart and purest of intentions that I tell you that Jesus Christ, creator of the universe, that to each one of you, (He) loves you too.”
That is the spirit that is missing from the ugly comments and barbs. If Shannon Spaulding had come to me for advice I would have told her to frame her address a bit differently. I would have suggested that she talk about the principles that guided her and the values that made her successful. Then I would have suggested that she spend a couple of minutes sharing that Jesus Christ is the foundation for her life and that He makes those values and principles work. I believe she had earned the right to express her beliefs. And yes, had the valedictorian been of another faith I would say the same thing.
Spaulding ended her talk by encouraging her fellow classmates in their futures.
“If your soul becomes weary, take comfort in Matt 11:28 which says, ‘Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,’” she stated as her presentation drew near its end. “And if your steps become uncertain, search out the truth, for John 8:32 says, ‘And he shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’”
Most of us are searching for the truth. I agree with Shannon Spaulding that Jesus Christ loves me, you, school board administrators who cover their rears, and bloggers who ridicule that very idea. Attacking eighteen year old students does not further the debate. Paul advised a young man named Timothy about how to conduct himself in confrontations.
…don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 2 Tim 2 NLT
As followers of Christ we are called to a higher standard. We must not forget that as we represent Jesus today.