There is a trend picking up steam across American school districts to do away with the designation of “Valedictorian,” the top high school student in terms of GPA. They are opting to remove such designations entirely or to name multiple valedictorians.
I am not a fan.
It continues to feed the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality that has become so pervasive, devaluing hard work and determination, persistence and self-discipline, healthy competition and drive. The very things that set a life apart.
This is not opinion. It is rooted in the clearest life-coaching the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to offer:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. (Philippians 3:12-15, NIV)
Yes, all of us who are mature should.
When I was a boy, I was given a piece of paper that similarly molded my thinking, long before I was aware of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I had it on my bedroom wall for years until it finally just fell apart with age. It was the words of Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States, that he delivered in a speech on January 17, 1925.
It was titled, “Press On.” He said:
Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
What marks the life of someone who lives a consequential life for Christ? When you read the lives of the great men and women in the Bible, what marked their lives?
No, they were often afraid.
The absence of failure?
No, they made more than their fair share of mistakes and many were repeated moral failures.
What marked their lives was an internal drive that was based on one thing: a hunger for God and the things of God. A desire to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.
They were marked by persistence and determination.
I caught something on TV one summer that riveted me. It was a one-hour program on the Hawaiian Open Ironman Triathlon. If you aren’t familiar with that event, it is the premier triathlon competition in the world. And it deserves its name. It involves a swim in the open ocean of more than two miles, followed by more than 100 miles of biking, ending with a full marathon. What captivated me wasn’t the competition itself, but the stories of the people involved—their strength of will, their fight to the finish.
One of the individuals profiled was a woman named Lyn Brooks. She was competing in her 19th Ironman! She would go on to become the first person to finish 20 consecutive Ironman Triathlon World Championship races.
She talked about how one year, during the marathon leg of the competition, she left the race and entered an aid tent by the side of the road. Her body was aching, her emotions were drained and the desire to stop – to just end it all there – was overpowering.
When she entered the tent, she looked over and sitting on a bench was a man who had also been competing. He was just resting and relaxing, drinking an ice-cold beer. Reading her thoughts, he said, “All you have to do is drop out of the race like me.”
Suddenly, she realized who he was.
He was the devil.
And she immediately left the tent and reentered the race.
Reflecting on the moment filled her eyes with tears. She said, “It was the hardest and most glorious day of my life.”
I do not know what you are going through right now. I do not know what you are facing that calls for persistence and determination. I only know that persistence and determination are everything. And that this can be the hardest but most glorious moment of your life if you choose that path.
My humble advice is simple. When it comes to your life, and particularly the cause of Christ, give everything,
… but up.
James Emery White
Tawnell D. Hobbs, “Farewell, Valedictorian: High Schools Drop Tradition of Naming Top Student,” The Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.