Seeing how the world seeks to indoctrinate children with sinful, anti-Biblical thinking, it could be easy to despair over the younger generation. But not all young people buy into the world’s thinking. Below are examples of two students who love Jesus and who had the courage to share God’s truth on the biggest stage of their young lives—their high school graduation.
Ever since Lydia Owens can remember, she has wrestled with perfectionism, particularly when it came to her school work. If she didn’t make an A on every assignment, she didn’t feel successful.
But last June, during a three-minute speech, the Woodmont High School valedictorian stood before thousands at her high school commencement ceremony in Piedmont, South Carolina, and told them that her worth—and their worth—is in Jesus alone.
“If you place your identity in what you accomplish, and you believe that you are only good enough if you succeed, what happens when you fail?” she said. “What happens when you don’t get into your dream college or you don’t get your dream job? What happens when you don’t have a lot of money or you don’t have a lot of friends? Placing your identity in the things of this world will disappoint you because they are only temporary.”
Lydia’s perspective of success began to change on Aug. 16, 2021. That was the day before her junior year began—and the day her mom died of suicide as a result of what her family thinks was COVID psychosis.
“When tragedy struck my life, it was not my grades nor my accomplishments that helped me navigate through that loss,” Lydia said. “When everything else in my life felt uncertain, the only person I could depend on to stay the same was Jesus.”
The crowd erupted in applause. The speech went viral, and as a result, people all over the world know that this Gen Z girl loves Jesus—a glimmer of hope in a world that continues to grow spiritually dark for her generation.
“Everyone erupted in applause because I was telling them about Jesus,” Lydia says. “That was just so encouraging to know that God was moving, and He was the reason I kept going through my speech.”
A few days earlier, in Humble, Texas, a similar audience broke out in applause for Atascocita High School valedictorian Campbell Lino at her school’s commencement program. Campbell came to the mic, and in a speech that also went around the world, congratulated the salutatorian and the other students in the top 10 line-up, then went straight to her main point.
“Now I want to talk to you all about the most important person in my life, Jesus Christ, and how He has changed my life.”
When the applause came, Campbell smiled. She had thought about this moment ever since she had seen that No. 1 ranking beside her name when she checked her grades the first semester of her freshman year.
“My immediate reaction was that the valedictorian gives a speech at graduation,” she said.
“And I went straight home and told my parents that if God would let me have this, then I would share the Gospel with all the people at my graduation, and so that became my mission for the next three-and-a-half years, and I fought tooth and nail for it.
“There were a thousand kids in my class, and there would also be family and friends, and I knew for a fact that the majority of them were not saved. And they might never hear the Gospel if I didn’t share it with them.”
She said nothing to the students about college or jobs during her two-minute talk.
“Their eternity was at stake,” she said. “That’s so much more important than the next four years. My God is big, and He is real. He’s bigger than any difficulties I’m facing in life, bigger than any temptation I might face or any relationship struggles that I might have.”
That’s the God she wanted to tell them about.
“What Jesus has done for me, He does for anyone who accepts Him as their personal King,” said Campbell, now a freshman at Cedarville University. “All you have to do is admit that you have not allowed Him to be the King of your life. Believe that His death, burial and resurrection completely paid the penalty for that decision and confess Him as your Savior and Lord. I encourage you all to make that decision today.”
For Lydia, now a freshman at Anderson University in South Carolina, Jesus is everything.
“I felt very alone and very broken when my mom died,” she said. “I felt like I had nothing left. My mom is the reason that I have such a strong faith. I was at the bottom of a hole, and the only thing that I had with me was Jesus, and the only reason I’m still here and I’m OK is that Jesus was with me, and that He never left me.”
She doesn’t understand why she lost her mom, but she understands that God is good, whatever the situation and circumstance. And that’s where she plans to keep her gaze fixed. Already, she can see that He is receiving glory from her testimony. When her older brother couldn’t come to her graduation, he watched the livestream at his work, and some of his co-workers joined him. And they are now asking him about Jesus.
That is success.
“No matter what your future holds, please remember that life is so much more than how successful you are,” she told the graduation audience. “Even if you accomplish all of your dreams or none of them at all, you are still valuable … because you are made in the image of God.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Courtesy of Lydia Owens