On religion: Who made a difference in your life?


When Ohio Wesleyan University’s track and field head coach Kris Boey was recently recognized for being the all-time leader among North Coast Athletic Conference track and field coaches in championship titles, he responded with modesty and class. Boey quickly acknowledged his student-athletes and his coaching staff.

Boey also spoke with gratitude about his mentors, including longtime OWU coach Marv Frye, “who reinforced the value in doing things the right way, not just what will best serve us in the short term.”

Sports in our culture tends to be very individual-focused and often revolves around persons with large egos. It is encouraging to see a successful and celebrated coach be so quick to share the accolades he has received.

I was reminded of a story about Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” Several years ago, Rogers was asked to be part of a White House meeting about children and television. Many broadcasters from all over the country were there.

During his speech, Rogers asked the audience to spend one minute thinking of someone who’d made a difference in the person they’d become. Rogers recalled the response of one person in the room.

“As I was leaving that enormous room, I heard something from one of the military guards who was all dressed up in white and gold, looking like a statue. I heard him whisper, ‘Thanks, Mister Rogers.’”

“So I went over to him and noticed his eyes were moist, and he said: ‘Well, sir, as I listened to you today, I started to remember my grandfather’s brother. I haven’t thought about him in years.’”

“I was only 7 when he died but, just before that, he gave me his favorite fishing rod. I’ve just been thinking, maybe that’s why I like fishing so much and why I like to show the kids in my neighborhood all about it.”

Rogers commented: “Well, as far as I’m concerned, the major reason for my going to Washington that day was that military guard and nourishing the memory of his great-uncle. What marvelous mysteries we’re privileged to be part of!”

“Why would that young man be assigned to guard that particular room on that particular day? Slender threads like that weave this complex fabric of our life together.”

Commencement season will soon be here. I have observed that commencement speeches often appeal to young people’s sense of individual achievement. While that is not entirely wrong, I think it often fails to acknowledge the many opportunities they have been given and the many people who have made a difference in the person they have become.

What if we took a minute during every commencement in order to pause and quietly remember those who had helped the graduates?

The apostle Paul, writing to the Christians at Corinth, asks: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”

Those thoughts are worthy of our consideration, whether we are young, old or somewhere in the middle.


Philip Wilden

Contributing columnist

The Rev. Philip Wilden is the pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church at 55 W. Lincoln Ave., Delaware.

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