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Around here its graduation season which is a special ‘right of passage’ for children, teens and adults, as they are recognized for having completed a level of education, and the standards required therein. For the smiling, oblivious little kindergartener, it may be dressing up and getting cupcakes and being called a First-grader. In the 8th or 9th grade, depending on the district, graduation signals mastery of the basics and readiness for the Big Leagues – Senior High.

High School graduation runs the gamut of students who somehow survived the rigors and passed by the thinnest of margins, to those who have legitimately worked harder and longer and earned highest honors. We all know both types of students and every kind in between. And it’s always a big deal. Look out world.

The next level is more specialized. Professional trades, technical schools, or traditional liberal arts education. College isn’t for everyone, but for those who are focused on a certain path, moving through the ranks of Bachelors, Masters, and possibly even Doctoral work, is required. We honor the individuals who cross those stages to collect those ribbon-laden diplomas because they did it, they met the requirements needed, and are ready to put what they’ve learned into practice in the service of their fellow man.

Actually, everyone has their own reasons for completing school. Maybe it was to land a job, or a better job, provide for their family, start a family, or prepare for a calling. Whatever the reason, they did what it took, learned what they needed to learn, and earned the degree they were awarded. Congratulations are in order.

An interesting thing is that while they all basically look the same, each one of those graduates are different. Kind of like a bag of apples, there are delicious ones, a few that are a little bruised, some may taste a little funny, and there may even be a rotten one or two. All in the same bag. Among any group of graduates there are going to be both people of true character and goodness, and selfish opportunists looking for an advantage over others. The outfits are the same, the smiles are pretty similar, the difference is in the heart.

During a career stint that required occasionally hiring people, I always tried to dig a little deeper than the beautiful calligraphy on the diploma announcing competency in a field. Finishing what you started has value, but what you are made of, your character and virtue, is much more valuable.

Faith, hope, knowledge, wisdom, honesty, integrity, humility, obedience, patience, courage, faithfulness, self-control, kindness, gratitude, and love are a few of the virtuous traits that should be cultivated in every life.

Tilled into the rich earth of the soul, and watered with spiritual disciplines, these virtues will help form a person into the leader, parent, spouse, employee, soldier, doctor, friend, or pastor that others want to be around. Follow. Emulate.

Note that these traits are not particularly Christian. They are virtuous because they are true, and as such should be sought by all men. But even then it comes back to Jesus, because He is Truth. So each ancient tradition pursuing virtuous living is, in subconscious ways, pursuing Jesus.

Dear Graduates, congratulations on your great accomplishments. Add to your achievements the depth of soul found in the virtues and you will be both on the path of God, and the equal of any challenge life sets before you.