Dr. Andrew Westmoreland of Samford University gave a commencement address in December of 2017 entitled “Respect Everyone.” The address was about as short a commencement speech as I’ve ever heard at just over six minutes, but what a powerful message he packed into that brief oration. In short, Dr. Westmoreland told an auditorium full of graduates, some earning doctorate and master’s degrees, that all their work had been in vain if they could not respect everyone. And he meant everyone. He went on to list types of people who don’t seem to get much respect in our society, among them the person who bags our groceries and the person who works the drive through line at the hamburger restaurant.
I’m sure some philosopher or historian somewhere could tell me when we started valuing people according to how much money they make. When it started, though, isn’t as important as the fact that we are fully engaged in it and need to stop it. Whether a grocery store employee or a Senator, a fry cook or a professor, all are made in the image of God. What’s more is that all have a role to play, their own unique ways of serving and loving each other. If a fry cook is consciously doing his job to the glory of God, then he is loving both God and neighbor in what he does—God because he commits his work unto Him, and neighbor because he does him a tremendous service by preparing him food.
When we are persuaded not to respect the grocery store clerk because he is, after all, just a grocery store clerk, our children pick up on that. Remember, as much of what they learn is caught from watching us and imitating us as is taught to them in classrooms. From watching our treatment of others, they learn how to treat others. If they learn from us not to value the grocery store clerk or anyone else who cannot afford to drive what Mommy drives, we have not only taught them to value people with high-paying jobs above other people, but we have also just put a tremendous amount of pressure on them for their own future. If Dad thinks little of the grocery store clerk, you can bet Junior won’t plan to be a grocery store clerk, or anything like a grocery store clerk. The pressure our high school seniors and college students feel is sometimes overwhelming for them, all because we have set a level of expectation for them we may not even have known we were setting.
Martin Luther has a famous quote encouraging cobblers to make shoes to the glory of God so that the cobbler’s work will be just as important as the minister’s. Dr. Westmoreland of Samford University says, “Respect everyone.” Jesus told us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. These are the kinds of principles that help guide a classical Christian education like we offer at Trinitas. We are certainly happy to know that many of our graduates get high-paying jobs and make lots of money after college, but that’s not the primary goal for Trinitas graduates. We are working to graduate students who understand the nature of humanity, who know beyond a shadow of doubt that the soul of the grocery store clerk is on par with the soul of the Senator, who know that to do good work at whatever job they choose is to love God and neighbor, and who live accordingly, respecting everyone.