To My Students,
Because I love you, I tell you: You are going to die. Do not ignore this fact; it is good for you to know and remember. Indeed, it is so important that Moses asked God to teach him to remember his own death: “Teach me to number my days.” It is never too early to remember you’re going to die. Wider American culture wants you to forget that death exists; it wants you to forget you are going to die, and if you treat high school like it will never end, then you are more likely to come out, as C.S. Lewis says, “a more clever devil.” However, remembering death does not mean hopelessness; it means living before the face of God. As Martin Luther said, “There are only two days on my calendar, this day [today] and that day [death.]” Remembering to count your days while you are young means making the most of your time. It means learning to love what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful.
Considering that, don’t be a fool. Remember, no one will read your grades at your funeral. Your resume won’t be printed on cards to be handed out as the doors open. Your eulogy will not focus on how you kept up with trends, listened to the latest music, watched Netflix’s latest dramatic thriller, and it certainly will not include a lengthy description of your GPA. You won’t be buried with your graduation tassels. No one’s children, standing over their father’s grave with tear-filled eyes, comfort themselves with, “at least he was a junior marshal.” Be sober minded. Do not tremble at difficulties; be more afraid that you suffer and come out unchanged, than that you suffer at all. Regard what is happening around you as chiefly a path to holiness before you think about your happiness. Consider the pursuit of holiness most important on your high school journey. Remember that your responses to the real, legitimate difficulties of high school are more important than your grade-point averages. God has commanded you to holiness not to making perfect grades on your assignments. High school is more a calling to be a saint than it is to be accepted into a particular college; it is more a calling to sainthood than to the workforce. If you forget this, you might forfeit your soul. Be concerned that you might not have a plow to look back from. There is more at stake in your learning than merely your grade-point average. Classical education helps you die well, and if it can help you die well, then it can help you live well.
At your funeral, your eulogy will be about the things you loved, so love what is beautiful. Practice what St. Paul commands: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer.” In these labors you will find rest. You will certainly feel, as Wendell Berry does: “I am not all-the-way capable of that, but those are the right instructions.” While you are not all the way capable, do not let that keep you from taking up the plow. Pray in class; pray during tests; pray throughout class discussions. Pray for your neighbor; pray for your enemies; pray for your mom. While you pray, hope. Don’t just hope to be hopeful, practice hope. Practice hope by rejoicing in it and repenting towards it. Be liturgical about your daily rejoicing in hope. Finally, be patient. Don’t just act patiently; be patient. If you cannot be patient, seek to become patient, and that is work enough for high school. Repent of your impatience and be willing to carry around a restless hope in your bones. Be content in the world but not with it. Let what you begin in freshman year continue for your whole life.
Do these things in pursuit of wisdom and holiness. Study. Live in harmony with your desk mate. Love those who eat lunch beside you. Memorize earnestly. Read carefully. Turn things in on time. Be in your seat at the bell. Dress orderly. Look at the comments on the paper first and then maybe the grade. Go to church. Read your Bible. Live life in the Trinity; seek first the kingdom of God; and high school will be added to you. Be ready to die.