Earlier this year, Dr Seuss Enterprises ceased publication and licensing of six of Dr. Seuss’s books. In the company’s words, these “books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” including racially insensitive images. Yet this June, millions of graduates of all ethnicities will receive a Dr. Seuss book that is also troubling: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Originally published in 1991, Seuss’s Places was the last book published before his death—and it remains his #1 seller. To date, more than 50 million copies have sold.
Whereas this graduation favorite is full of Seuss’s trademark whimsical cleverness, I see the book’s moral landscape pointing readers toward a fleeting F.E.A.S.T.—suggesting that Fame, Experiences, Autonomy, Success, and Toughness as the primary aims of life. Much like Suess’s own life, Places saves little room for family, sacrifice, community, or ultimate divine hope.
Now if you are a little child learning to read, there is, of course, clever amusement in Seuss’s books. Whereas it can be fun to give such gifts at graduation (I myself have given Places in the past), graduates of Christian schools should have a much different aim in life. We may like Seuss’s whimsy, but his way of life is flimsy.
In contrast to Seuss’s fleeting F.E.A.S.T, Christians who trust the God of the Bible know that the real feast we’re being fit for is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). This feast includes eternal rewards for a life lived in obedience to Christ.
Instead of running for fame and success, Christian graduates of all ages are in a race of faith. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul names these five crowns as rewards of a faithful Christian life.
- The crown of LIFE is a reward for faithfulness to Christ in persecution or martyrdom: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
- The EVERLASTING crown is a reward for determination, discipline, and victory in the Christian life: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
- The crown of GLORY is a reward for faithfully representing Christ in spiritual leadership: “To the elders among you, be shepherds of God’s flock . . . and examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).
- The crown of RIGHTEOUSNESS is a reward for purifying and readying yourself to meet Christ at his return: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day . . . and to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
- The crown of REJOICING is a reward for pouring oneself into others in evangelism and discipleship: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?” (1 Thess. 2:19).
Inspired by the writings of Randy Alcorn, John Bunyan, and others, my wife and I wrote Oh, the Treasures You’ll Know! for Christian graduates with these five crowns in mind. The book also describes serious pitfalls that can distract all of us from fixing our eyes on Christ and His Kingdom.
It’s true that graduates of Christian schools will have heard these gospel truths many times before. But sometimes old truths told in a new way can awaken us to the ways we have become beholden to the worldliness of our culture. The siren song of expressive individualism is on surround sound for students in our schools, Christian or otherwise. Seuss’s Places is just one more distracting tune playing nearly all the wrong notes.
Graduations are a rite a passage; they mark a real accomplishment in students’ lives. Whatever you give as a gift to the graduate in your life this spring, ask yourself if the gift encourages them to pursue deep hope and joy. May we all remember that the graduation mattering most is to Glory.
Dan Olson serves as Managing Director at Anselm House, a center for Christian studies serving the University of Minnesota. He also directs the Spreading Hope Network, which serves leaders of emerging Christ-centered schools with governance, leadership and advancement strategies. Dan received his B.A. in communications and English literature at Wheaton College (IL) and an M.A. in Christian studies at Regent College (BC). He previously served in leadership with The Gospel Coalition, Baker Publishing Group, and Hope Academy, of which he now serves as board chair. Dan and his wife Lucy have four children and live in Minneapolis.