Career Comment: My last Prelude lecture
By Glenn Triezenberg, Director of Career Development

Students sitting in classIt is Sunday evening, Oct. 19, 2008. I’m at my desk at home writing this Career Comment, which was due four days ago. Tomorrow morning someone from the alumni office will call and say, “Glenn, we need your article for the Spark by the end of the day.”

Tonight, I’m also preparing my last lecture for the Prelude course I teach tomorrow. Prelude is a seven-week course that all first-year students take as an introduction to the Calvin College mission, values and community. My class meets Monday afternoons from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.; there will be many happy Prelude students come 6 p.m. tomorrow.

This year—2008—has been no ordinary year for me. I turned 60 in April. Since then, two good friends have died of cancer, and another was diagnosed. A psychologist colleague of 35 years retired early at age 58 after being diagnosed with dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s disease. A few weeks ago, the beautiful 18-month-old grandson of a dear colleague died suddenly of an undiagnosed virus.

Many good friends, colleagues and Calvin alumni have lost jobs this past year. I know this pain. Downsizing happened to me, too. I recovered, they will recover, but we’ll remember the pain. Students and parents ask me, “What college major and career path will guarantee a good job and career after graduation?”

I tell them there are no guarantees. There never really were any guarantees. There is no such thing as employment security. Employment has always been about matching the challenges and opportunities of the future with the right mixture of needs, ideas, capital, labor, innovation and other things economists enjoy studying.

As I prepare my last Prelude lecture, I turn to the best teacher I know, my wife, Nancy. I ask, “Any suggestions for concluding my Prelude class tomorrow?” She replies, “Well, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is an interesting book. It’s short—you could read it yet tonight and use some of his ideas, or you could give students your own ideas.”

I’ll read the Pausch book someday. But tomorrow, I’ll end my Prelude teaching with some advice I’ve given to other students and alumni over the years. My top-10 last lecture recommendations to my students are:

  • Invite Christ into your heart, then try to live every day as He taught and in the knowledge that you belong to Him, your faithful savior. Memorize or read Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1 often. Embrace it as a faith rudder. Remember that you can have doubts and not want to belong, but you belong anyway.
  • Right now your job is to be a student. Be the best student you can be, and remember that time is your most precious gift. You are not promised tomorrow.
  • As a first-semester student, you don’t have to know your academic major, vocation of the future or career plan. You are still a puppy! The will of God for your future will come together over time as you become developmentally, spiritually and experientially aware of your interests and strengths and the challenges and opportunities of the world.
  • While at Calvin (and in your future career), you will succeed and you will fail. You will learn to handle great success and heartbreaking failure. Both will happen, I assure you.
  • Adapting to change and new career paradigms will be your greatest challenge over the course of your work life. Calvin is preparing you for the careers of tomorrow. You will be ready for the journey. If you need help along the way, call me. We’ll chat.
  • To experience the greatest sense of purpose and joy in your life as a student and in your future career, express gratitude and practice forgiveness as essential spiritual disciplines. Thank family, friends and co-workers as if your life depended on them. Forgive them often and genuinely.
  • A sense of purpose and joy in life does not flow down the river of self-gratification, personal success and accumulation of stuff. Purpose and joy flow from moments, memories and faithful service to people you love and missions that matter. Trust me on this.
  • Your parents and other people who love you did the best they could to bring you to this place and point in your life. Thank them until you are as old as me.
  • As Mother Teresa said, “God calls us to be faithful; He doesn’t call us to be successful.” Understand that faithfulness and success are possible, and they sometimes occur together, but faithfulness is God’s desire for your life and true source of joy.
  • And finally, as St. Francis reminded us centuries ago, “Preach Christ constantly, and if you must, use words.”

It’s all grace. May it be so for you!