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The Best Graduation Gift

By Joyce Swann
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #28, 1999.

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Joyce Swann


Twenty-three years ago when I sat down at our kitchen table with my oldest child and began teaching her basic lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic, I was afraid that I was not equal to the task. I knew only that the Lord had instructed me in a dream not to send the children to school "lest they be corrupted," and I was acting out of obedience. My husband John and I had dedicated each of our children to God, and as Bible-believing Baptists we were willing to do whatever He required to raise them in accordance with His will.

Yet, it is fortunate that I did not know then all that lay ahead for our family. If I had, I might not have had the courage to go forward. In 1975, when I began teaching Alexandra, I was pregnant with our fifth child. However, I did not know that I would, ultimately, give birth to ten children in twelve years. I did not know that in 1985 my husband would lose his lucrative job as the president of a large financial institution, and we would go from a six-figure income to no income at all. I did not know that we would spend the thirteen years after that struggling and scraping so that we could continue to homeschool. I did not know that in 1995 I would be run over by our family van and spend the next few months battling crushing pain and illness as I continued to teach. I am glad that on my first day as a homeschool teacher I did not know just how much would be required of us.

It is also true that I did not know how glorious Jesus Christ's presence would be in the midst of such trial. He was always there, and I have never experienced Him so intensely as I have in those darkest moments when He miraculously met every need. But He did more than meet our physical needs. He gave us a means of educating our children in a Christ-centered environment where their spiritual needs could be met. This was what John and I wanted most for our children; we wanted them to honor the name of the Lord all the days of their lives, and we trusted that homeschooling would play a major role in accomplishing this goal.

On August 14, 1998, at age 15, my two youngest sons received their bachelors degrees from Brigham Young University. Although they had not completed their formal educations - they would begin earning their masters degrees through the extension program at California State University the following week - their graduations from BYU marked a milestone in our homeschooling odyssey.

The five weeks we spend on the BYU campus while they each completed two seminars and presented their closure projects (bachelors theses) were a time of both enormous stress and considerable blessing for all three of us. However, something happened during their first two-week seminar that, for me, was the high point of the summer. Three of the boys' classmates walked to our on-campus apartment to talk with me. The three women, who ranged in age from late twenties to late fifties, came independently of each other, and I have no reason to believe that any of them knew that the others had come. They all said that they had come to meet me because they were so impressed with the boys. Yet, what impressed them most was not that the boys were following in their eight siblings' footsteps by graduating from the university at age 15 or that their graduations made our children the ten youngest graduates in the history of Brigham Young University. These women had come to meet me because the boys treated their classmates with so much respect and kindness, and they wanted to know what I had done to turn out such polite young men.

The women told me that the boys always opened the classroom doors for all women classmates and helped them get on and off the vans when the class went on field trips. They stayed behind long enough to turn out all the lights in the classrooms and close the doors when classes ended. In short, although the boys were 13 years younger than their next-youngest classmate, they seemed to consider it their duty to "take care of everybody else." It was these simple acts of kindness that opened the door for me to tell three strangers what Christ has done in our lives. I spent hours telling them about the daily Bible readings, the family prayer, and the simple act of putting one's life in Christ's hands and then trusting Him for the outcome. It was a wonderful opportunity, but it would never have come had my sons not been willing to extend what we think of as "common courtesy."

The boys were simply living out the Golden Rule - treating other people the way they would like to be treated - and their actions were solely a result of years of Bible reading. I was so caught up in making certain they were scholastically prepared that I never once thought to say, "Be polite," or, "Act like gentlemen," when they left the apartment for the seminars each morning. They were not obeying me; they were obeying Christ's command to treat others with courtesy, respect, and kindness. They were living out their Christian faith, and that was what John and I had wanted most to see in our children's lives. Our goal was not to have the world look at them and see scholars; it was to have the world look at them and see Christians.

My children are far from perfect, and I know that in many ways I have failed. But I have tried to teach them to serve Christ both by what I say and by the example of my own life. Thus this summer's experience with their classmates was the best graduation gift God could have given me.


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