On May 19th, I attended the 2019 Wharton MBA Graduation at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). My son graduated from Wharton after studying there for two years. Graduations are happy gatherings where students, faculty, families and friends celebrate the graduate’s successful completion of study. The graduates and their supporters rejoice in their accomplishments.
The 850 members of the 2019 Wharton MBA graduation class selected Raul Martinez as their student speaker. Raul is a first generation American. He grew up in poverty, living in a trailer park with gang activity. He now has three graduate degrees: Public Policy (University of Southern California), Business Administration, and Law (University of Pennsylvania). Before going to Wharton, he taught school in Los Angeles as part of the Teach for America Program.
Raul’s speech was titled: Fight Hard — Give More. He told a story about his second-grade teacher who assigned 200 math problems for homework as punishment. Raul tried to finish the homework but needed help. His mother worked two full-time minimum wage jobs and came home at midnight. Raul set his alarm and got up when his mother arrived home to seek her assistance.
Although exhausted from working 19 hours, she labored with her son until 3am when her husband asked why they were not in bed. When he learned of the difficult math assignment, his father got angry and stated that he would go to Raul’s school that morning and complain. Raul’s mother stopped him and said, “This is why we came to America.” Although she did not complete middle school and barely spoke English, she knew that America was a land of opportunity for those who worked hard. She wanted her son to succeed and knew that success meant hard work.
Raul challenged his Wharton classmates to use their talents so that they could give more to society. The world needs talented people as world problems are complex. Dedicated mentors, like his mother, enabled him to understand that he needed to fight hard through adversity to succeed. He stood before his classmates as a success story: one who fought hard and is now giving back.
Christians are called to fight hard in a secular world that is increasingly hostile towards Christianity. The fighting is not usually a physical battle, although it will be physically demanding. The ‘Fight Hard’ is to be highly competent in your chosen field of expertise and disciplined in your Christian character. Being competent requires grit and determination through years of study and toil. The same determination is required when forging Christian character through worship, prayer, and discipleship. The ‘Give More’ is to love your neighbor as yourself. By being followers of Jesus Christ and using our God-given talents, we lead our community towards the new creation.
The journey will not be easy. Raul understood this as a second grader living in poverty. But Jesus Christ never said following him was easy. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matt. 10:16, NIV) Our work has spiritual meaning when we Fight Hard — Give More.