Being here today is kind of strange for me, because I couldn’t afford to go to my graduation.
Maybe I secretly knew I would get the robes eventually! I feel very grand. I like it.
I’m a University of Derby graduate. I studied International Development at the Keddleston Campus. It’s a course that asks the question ‘how do we solve the issue of poverty?’ I’m still not sure I know the full answer, but I loved my course and I loved my lecturers.
I had lots of dreams and plans for my time after university. Some of them came true. I now have an amazing job where I get to inspire students to act for social justice and enrich their faith, but not everything quite went to plan. In 2012 I was also diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
PTSD is a really nasty disease of the mind. First discovered in soldiers coming home from wars, it’s now recognised as a mental illness which can be triggered by lots of different traumas such as being mugged, escaping a house fire, car accidents or sexual assault. Around 1 in 2 people experience trauma in their lives and around 20% of those go onto to develop PTSD.
In the Bible Jesus says that ‘I have come so that they may have life and have life to the full.’ For me, that meant that God had greater plans for my life, than one consumed by despair and brokenness. A life of healing and joy.
I am still on my way to full recovery, but there’s three things I’ve learnt in the past few years I’d like to share with you.
My first point is the value of friendship.
I lost a lot because of my mental illness. One of the many symptoms of PTSD is temporary memory loss. Your mind is so consumed by the traumatic experience that your mind shuts down some other basic functions to focus its energy on solving the problem. I stopped on a street corner one day on my way to work and said ‘please God, I just need to remember one good thing today, one good thing, I must have one good memory’. My brain had nothing give me.
You don’t think of having memory as being precious until it’s gone. It’s like losing all your family photo albums in a house fire. Some of my favourite memories of university are eating sainsbury £1 chocolate gateau and Friends box sets on weekday evenings.
Most of you will move on from Buxton. Geography and time and responsibilities will make it harder for you see your friends. Invest the time, make the effort, they’ll be your source of strength and one of the best things in your life when you’re older.
Those friends you stayed up late nights with doing essays, watching Netflix and going to the pub with, they know you. In an ever changing world with Facebook and Twitter, we need people who know us.
Don’t forget to also make new memories. They are one of the most beautiful and precious things we have.
My second point is the value of courage.
Whitney Houston famously sang ‘I never knew my own strength’. Until you face adversity you never know how strong and resilient you are. If we all realised just how powerful we are, the whole world would change.
Changing the world requires courage and we have encouragement from two of our readings today. But what does it mean to have courage? What does that look like?
Mary Daly, a theologian, writes, "Courage is a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. You learn courage by couraging."
It’s worth noting that courage and heroics are two different things. Heroics is often about putting your life on the line, but ordinary courage is about putting your vulnerability on the line.
I thought the biggest challenges in my life would be going to some far flung country with the UN and doing disaster relief. The hardest thing was actually going to work every day even though I knew I was ill, my brain was having a melt down and I was being terrible at my job.
Being vulnerable and saying I need help, this is what is real in my life, was really painful. Yet, the truth is, vulnerability is the birthplace of love and joy and connection. It has taught me to redefine my goals, because we are enough. Just as we are.
We need to affirm our inherent lovability, divinity and worthiness, whatever our circumstances. That’s radical in our world today, but it’s what God askes of all of us.
My third point is the value of dreams.
I am very lucky, because I get to do a job that I love. But in order to get where I am now, I had to take risks. Before I joined the Student Christian Movement, I fundraised all my wages for my first job in Manchester. I was advised against it by my family and friends.
Eleanor Rosevelt said 'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams'.
Taking that job and fundraising was tough, but I don’t regret it, because it helped me get to where I am now. I had a dream for a just world. A world where the least will be the first.
Now I'm recovering from PTSD I have new dreams. Dreams of starting a family, which I never thought would be possible. We have the opportunity to break down barriers that stand before us, if we dare to take a leap of faith. And I know it's true because that's my story.
What's your dream? I hope it's big and bold and beautiful.
I want to encourage you to take risks and be bold, forge your own path. You can do it, you can make it and with God, all things are possible.
So let me leave you by saying this. Live into your own skin, take risks, be undiminished, especially in your own eyes. And enjoy your special day.
Most of my inspiration for the courage section came from this Brene Brown article: http://www.bhevolution.org/public/gifts_of_imperfection.page