The year is 2012. Becky and I are in Tempe, attending our son’s graduation at ASU. The graduation was inside of the football stadium. Soon-to-be graduates, dressed in their regalia, are seated on the stadium’s playing field. Families and friends are sitting in the stands around the playing field. It’s May, the hot time of the year. I’d estimate there were more than 30,000 people in attendance. 

The famous newscaster Tom Brokaw was the featured speaker at the graduation. He is very respected in America, and having Mr. Brokaw speak at the graduation was a big event. When it was Mr. Brokaw’s turn to give the graduation speech, the drone of conversational buzz in the stadium ceased. Even the students quit messing around and quieted themselves to hear what this “biggie” would say. 

Tom Brokaw came to the podium, and with a big smile he began his speech. Here is my very close recollection of the opening of his speech. “Well, it’s your big day. Congratulations. I know you are thinking that you are going out into a grown-up, mature world. You’re expecting professionalism. You won’t have to put up with childish things anymore. I have news for you. When you get a job in the grown-up world, you are going back to seventh grade again.” 

In other words, it’s not what you think it will be. It’s not mature. It’s immature. Get ready for it. 

I was stunned — what a way to start a graduation message. The families and friends with more experience in the real world roared in laughter. The students looked around, wondering what was going on. They had no idea of what was to come. I have never forgotten Tom Brokaw’s introduction. Finally, someone said something honest and truthful.

When I started my career, it was kind of like a marriage. I mean, love is blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener. I couldn’t believe how “seventh grade” it was in the real world. There was competing, game-playing, starting rumors, criticism, and heaps of other adjectives I could use. “Seventh grade-ism” is prevalent in academia, media, government, business and church. We have women competing to be homecoming queen. We have men strutting and preening to be homecoming king. In these contests, there is far more energy spent in attaining than doing. That hurts everyone.

Let me illustrate with a story of three states in the United States trying to outdo one another. 

After digging to a depth of 10 feet last year outside Buffalo, scientists found traces of copper cable dating back 100 years. They concluded that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago.

Not to be outdone by the New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed, a Los Angeles archaeologist dug to a depth of 20 feet somewhere just outside Oceanside. Shortly afterward, a story in the LA Times read, “California archaeologists, reporting a finding of 200-year-old copper cable, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network 100 years earlier than the New Yorkers.”

One week later, a local newspaper in Green Bay reported, “After digging 30 feet deep in his pasture near the community of Sobieski, Wisconsin, Ole Olson, a heck of an engineer and a self-taught archaeologist, reported that he found absolutely nothing. Ole has therefore concluded that 300 years ago, Wisconsin had already gone wireless.” It just makes a person proud to be from Wisconsin. Welcome back to the seventh grade! 

Think of it. You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely. Immaturity is like an itch — the less you have of it, the better off you are, assuming you’re an adult. So please don’t hear what I didn’t say. It’s great to feel like a kid again, to compete, laugh and the like, but not all the time. There is a time to act mature because you are mature. That’s true at work, in marriage and in raising a family. And it’s especially true in your conversations with others and how you treat others. Even though our mouths are just inches from our brain, sometimes it seems like miles.

Unfortunately, Tom Brokaw is right. Welcome back to seventh grade. So, what does living in a seventh grade culture world look and feel like? It looks and feels like life today. Look around. It’s everywhere in politics, media, government, business, sports, arts and the like. So, what’s the problem with seventh grade? Nothing, if you are a seventh grader. But everything is wrong if you act like a seventh grader 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 years later. Immature people create an adolescent society and culture. 

Here’s the consequences of a society run by seventh graders who never grow up from Scripture. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t maturity. Boasting that you are wise isn’t maturity. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t maturity. It’s the furthest thing from maturity — it’s animal cunning, devilish plotting. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart, and everyone ends up at the others’ throats” (James 3: 16-18 parts).

So, do we get any better, or is this it? I say we get better. How? “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I grew up, I did away with childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11).

Perhaps I could say it this way. We’re not sick. We’re stuck. Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. After all, the idea is to grow up before you grow old.