If I were delivering the opening D'var Torah at graduation or commencement, I might say it like this...
Distinguished New Graduates, Mazal Tov!
In this week's parasha, Sh'lach L'cha, Moshe sends a small group of people out to scout out the future. For quite some time, the big group has been in an intense and very organized learning environment (basically Mount Sinai). There have been many classes on specific topics -- some of them immediately practical, but a lot of them somewhat theoretical. The group's time has been highly structured -- they are only allowed to move from one area to another when there is a signal (a cloud moving in front of the camp).
At the same time, the Israelites have all known that there is a future goal in mind. The Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. They have heard about it, and they hear from time to time that this is the purpose of all that they are learning. But it's out there, somewhere else, in the future.
So finally, God instructs Moshe to send out twelve leaders to get a first look at the future. He gives them a series of questions (Numbers 13:18-20): See what kind of land it is. Are the people who live in it strong or weak? Few or many? Is the land good or bad?...Is the soil rich in nutrients or poor? Are there trees or not? Get up your strength and bring back some of the fruit of the land.
Who are these questions for? Surely God has already told Moshe the answers. Surely Moshe knows that the place they are heading is a good place.
But still, the scouts have to go out and see for themselves. They have to discover, to experience, to gather data and reflect on it. It will only be in the future a good land, if the people are ready to go there and make a good life there.
For you, graduates, this moment is like that. You've been in school for a long time, learning according to our grown-up plan for you. If you're finishing high school, you can look back on 13-15 years of us telling you where to go and when with the ring of a bell, five days a week for most of the day. We have been promising you that it's all for a good purpose. That when you reach adulthood, you will thrive. You'll be able to take all of this learning, and go straight into the Promised Land of your own future.
But as much as we promise and teach, we know that it's not enough to get you to the Promised Land. You'll be the ones going to scout out the future, and to move into it slowly or quickly, with confidence or concern. And as much as we know how good the next part of your life can be, we know we can't do it for you. That's how it was for us too, after all.
What's going to happen next for you? We can't promise that everything will be good right away, or that you'll even believe us that there's a Promised Land for you. After all, when Moshe sent out the scouts, ten of them came back afraid. People heard them and said that it would be better to go backward, to regress. It's true that school and work are hard, that the economy is tough, that being independent and even just doing your own laundry can be hard. You might make mistakes. You might be fearful at times, like the ten scouts were.
But we hope you'll find enough moments when you feel like the other two, Yehoshua and Kalev. They said: It's true, the new land looks challenging, but God is with us and if you look deep down, you know it's a good land and we can make it.
So we congratulate you for all you have done so far to be prepared. We can't wait to see what you do next, what contributions you will make in your lives to the goodness of our world. You're absolutely ready! To take the next step, and to scout out the future even if it will take some time to get there. You don't have to get there all at once. Along the way, know how many people are here to hear about what you find, to support you when you fear, and to celebrate what you do and who you become.
Mazal tov to all the graduates of 5772!