Recently I came across a valedictory address from 2011 that was written by one of my former students, Kade Garner. I remember when I heard him deliver it at graduation and being impressed deeply with the concept he spoke of. Here is the opening of that speech:
“In the African language, Zulu, there is a word that encompasses a universal concept that is important and taught in every culture. This work is unique to the Zulu language because no other language in the world has been able to take this concept and put it into a single word. This concept in my opinion sums up my entire childhood experience growing up in St. Johns. The word is ubuntu and it means: ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’, or ‘I am because we are’ for short.” Kade then went on to make the point that this community, St. Johns, had impacted his and his classmates lives in so many positive ways, and that we owe everything we have and everything we are to the people who have raised us.
I remember when I heard him speak, that a truth rang out in my heart: that this idea, this word “ubuntu” was synonymous in my soul with the word GOD, and “family”.
Today is my brother Cameron’s birthday. I love this brother dearly for the many things he taught me in his brief few months of life. I am what I am because of who he was, and the role he has played in my family’s journey. This brother died at the age of 9 months, when I was only 11, thirty-four years ago. He was such a happy baby, and had such a peaceful disposition. I loved his brown eyes and the depth they had. His smile was contagious! He was a joy in our lives...I recall the devastation and sadness of my parents, especially my mother, when this loss rocked our family. But in spite of all of this, there are so many positive things I learned from this horrible tragedy. In the week that followed, I remember feeling the Comforter for the first recognizable time in my life. It was a feeling of peace that overwhelmed me and I knew the Holy Ghost was real. The music at Cameron’s funeral added to this peace and comfort. Our primary friends sang “Love One Another”, and one of my dad’s friends sang a song from the musical, Saturday’s Warrior. These few lyrics from that song are burned in my mind:
Who are these children coming down, coming down.
Like gentle rain though darken skies.
With glory trailing from their feet as they go.
And endless promise in their eyes!
Who are these young ones growing tall, growing tall.
Like silver trees against the storm.
Who will not bend with the wind or the change,
But stand to fight the world alone!
I love these lyrics. I was a bit too young then, to realize the complete meaning of their beautiful message, but I remember picturing Cameron with “glory” trailing from his tiny feet, on his way back to live with a Father in Heaven. It gave me great comfort.
But even in sadness, and despair, our little family was forged closer together in a testimony of Love and of the resurrection. I started to question life after death and the belief that families could be forever. One night many months after, we had a family home evening. My mom had prepared a lesson about working together to be a forever family. She told us that she knew that Cameron was with Heavenly Father and that he was one of his choice sons, and warriors, that had come to earth to help teach us love. She said that we all were warriors in God’s family, and that we needed to rise up and stand up for his word. I remember thinking how can I be a warrior? I am weak and am not very brave. My mother then told each of us, what she believed our strengths were. Interestingly enough, none of the strengths were exactly alike, but rather a balance that helped strengthen the other members in areas that they were weak. But she convinced each of us that we had some quality that our family needed. She emphasized the point that one warrior is strong, but many warriors focused together in purpose could be invincible. She knew that we had all been sent for a purpose, just as Cameron had, and that we should strive to fulfill our purpose in God’s plan. I found comfort in the thought of fighting side by side with my brothers and sister, but also my mom and my dad. My parents were such examples of battling through life’s trials. This was the start of my testimony of FAMILY, and its purpose in life.
In the family proclamation it states: The family is central to God’s plan for His children. It is also the central unit of society and the means for bringing children into the world where they can be loved, provided for, and taught truth and righteousness (see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”).
I know God’s plan is for us to work together and pull together as His children in His direction. He provides us daily with those souls around us that can build us up when we need help, but also blesses us to be the builders (warriors) when others of his children need it. He has given us our immediate families, but also other families, like our church family, our friends, even our community family. We can all be warriors in one of these families if we’ll search our hearts and take courage in the knowledge that together we are strong. I have been blessed to be raised by not only my parents but also my friends parents, awesome teachers, neighbors, coaches, church leaders and friends. I am still learning from you that lead out in our community and our town; I learn daily from my colleagues. I admire those of you who donate your time in working with youth, and to those of you that have been my students, just know that you have taught me tremendous lessons about love. It gives me strength to watch all of you and see your examples of kindness and strength and patience, and generosity in trying to do his will; Think of those around you that build you up… I'm positive they fit into one of the definitions of family. Many of you are valiant enough that you could fight the world alone, but you don't have to! God has blessed us with families! My heart is filled with hope; that together we can build His kingdom and fight side by side to strengthen our individual families and ourselves. I am becoming a warrior for God! And that brings me back to “ubuntu”, = I am because we are…
(special thanks to Kade Garner for teaching his teacher)