To our 2014 Graduates: Continue Your Work!

A few days before Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s death in October 1902, her friend Susan B. Anthony wrote her a letter. In the letter Anthony reflected that she and Stanton would not live to see the goal of women’s suffrage accomplished.

We little dreamed when we began this contest, optimistic with hope and buoyancy of youth, that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the fully admitted right to speak in public—all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. They have practically but one point to gain—the suffrage; we had all. These strong, courageous, capable young women will take our place and complete our work. There is an army of them where we were but a handful. Ancient prejudice has become so softened, public sentiment so liberalized and women have so thoroughly demonstrated their ability as to leave no doubt that they will carry our cause to victory.

I don’t cry often in class, but reading this paragraph aloud is sure to start the waterworks. Why is that? Stanton and Anthony had been working for fifty years together on what they saw as a righteous and just cause. That work had, at times, strained their friendship, and it had made them unpopular in the public eye. And, in the end, neither one would live to do what they had been working toward all those years: vote. And yet, what gets me about this letter is that instead of being bitter, angry, or depressed, Anthony is full of hope. And that hope comes from seeing that the cause is in the hands of a new generation: “strong, courageous, capable women [who] will take our place and complete our work.”

The sense of hope carries with it some measure of expectation, an expectation born of confidence. When I think about the social studies education and history students who graduated from Bethel University this year, I have this sense of hope. As Christians, our ultimate cause might be different from Stanton and Anthony’s. While they labored for women’s rights, we are called to participate in the on-going work of redemption. None of us may live to see that work completed, but I am confident that this new batch of college graduates will prove themselves strong, courageous, and capable and will do their part to add to the beauty, the goodness, and the wisdom of the world God created and loves.

Blessings on all of you in the coming months and years.

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