Of the record-setting 11,734 students who graduated from Ohio State University this spring, one became national news simply because he shouldn’t have.
At least not according to a five-year old Tweet that followed him throughout his Buckeye football career.
When Cardale Jones walked the aisle as his name was called, he took hold of a document that spoke volumes about the possibility of change and growth.
As a 19-year-old, Jones sent out an infamous Tweet that read, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS,” sending a shudder throughout hallways and offices in both Columbus and Indianapolis, the official headquarters of the NCAA.
He immediately and easily became the latest target for everything that is wrong in college sports, casting a long shadow once again on the notion of student-athlete. (Even though just a half year after this Tweet he sent another that got far less attention: “Still can’t believe I tweeted something as stupid as this but hey, we live and we learn, after your religion, faith and family, NOTHING is more important than education #StudentBeforeAthlete.”)
After becoming more positively known in Columbus for coming off the bench to lead the Buckeyes to three improbable wins against Michigan, Alabama, and Oregon to end the 2014 season with a National Championship, Jones played one more forgettable season before leaving school early and being drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills.
What did surprise everyone paying any attention was his re-enrollment at OSU this past Spring to finish two classes he needed to graduate, which he did, producing his presence at the graduation not as a bystander in the audience, but as a participant among the students.
Fittingly, he alluded to his first Tweet by writing it on the top of his graduation cap.
While Jones’ story becomes proverbial on a number of levels, one in particular stands out, a point Jesus made to the religious leaders of his day in Matthew 21:28-32.
What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
A critical reminder: It’s not where we start or what we say at the beginning of the journey, but where we end and what we’re saying going across the finish. A reminder not to judge either ourselves or others simply by what is seen today, but by what God sees at the end—a view only He has the privilege of taking in. A reminder that as long as we have breath in our lungs, the opportunity exists to get right with God, no matter what others have seen, and no matter what that means given the specifics of our situation.