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Napper fills in a piece of the puzzle for 276 of Tech’s newest graduates

Dr. Stan Napper speaks at graduation.

Dr. Stan Napper

Graduation speaker Stan Napper gave each of the 276 newest Louisiana Tech University graduates a jigsaw puzzle piece before they entered the floor of the Thomas Assembly Center Thursday morning for the school’s 321st Commencement Exercise.

The message the retiring vice president for research and development conveyed by the end of his speech was that life is a puzzle, and it’s finding out the way to make yourself best fit that counts most.

As he began his address, Napper asked the new graduates a bunch of questions about the gift.

“How does it feel?” he asked. “Smooth on one side, rough on the other.

“Is it light? Is it heavy? How big is it? … How would you describe its shape? What about its chemical properties? Organic or inorganic? Is it flammable? … Is it beautiful? Is it colorful? … What emotion does it evoke? What story does it tell? … What about your gift is similar to the one your neighbor owns? What about your gift is different from the one your neighbor owns?”

Summer 2017 Graduation

Summer 2017 Graduation

Napper continued his questions, narrowing things down to the message he was trying to convey.

“Is your gift absolutely unique?,” he said. “Does it fit with your neighbors’ gift? And what would happen if you decided you didn’t like your gift? What if you wanted to shape it differently, or use it differently, or you kept it to yourself instead of using it to build something with all the other pieces?”

Finally Napper began to explain his puzzling questions.

“It takes every piece to complete the picture,” he said. “Every unique piece is important. … Questions like these have been on my mind ever since I started thinking about my children’s future: the idea that each child has a unique, individual way that he or she should go.”

Napper said his prayers have been for God to help show him how to train each child uniquely and individually to show each one the way they should go.

“Like the puzzle piece in your hand, you have many unique and unchangeable qualities,” Napper told the new graduates. “Things like you parents. You can’t change the biology of who your parents are.

“Your time in history, the time you were born — you can’t go back and change that. Your racial background, your genetic makeup, your ancestry, your national heritage — the place you were born — you can’t change that. Your biological sex: you’re genetically male or female determined by your chromosomes. … you can’t change that.”

Abbie King of Ruston receives her diploma from Dr. Guice.

Abbie King of Ruston

Napper told the crowd that each person is uniquely designed to fit with others in this world.

And that missing pieces can’t really be replaced.

“That analogy of this jigsaw puzzle and my family became real to be and my family the day my oldest son Benjamin drove head-on into an 18-wheeler and immediately left this Earth to live with his heavenly father,” Napper said. “On a Friday morning in May of 2002, he was on his way to a 9:30 class at Louisiana Tech where he was majoring in history in his sophomore year.

“God’s peace and presence were so evident in the following days. But that night, after I talked to his other brothers and sisters, my 11-year-old daughter came to me — she was the last one of the day — to ask this question: ‘Dad, why did this happen?’ I told her that we were not angry because Ben didn’t belong to us. He never did because none of our children belong to us.”

Napper said he didn’t have the ability to understand God’s reasons, or God’s ways.

“I told her God is always working and has many interconnected projects going on at the same time,” Napper said. “But if something happens, even something as hard as Benjamin’s death, (God) is good enough to accomplish hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of purposes at the same time. So trying to understand God’s purposes is like trying to work a 1,000-piece puzzle with your head lying face down on a table so that you can only see one piece of the puzzle.

“The good news is that God sees the big picture all the time, and how all the pieces fit together,” Napper said. “So I hope you understand the message of the jigsaw puzzle and how you might apply it to your life now, and that you’ll soon discover where you fit in the big picture.”

Two of the new graduates, Austin Reed Snider of Minden, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Business, and Rachel Lynn Maxson of Lubbock, Texas, posted perfect 4.0 grade point averages during their undergraduate careers at Tech.

Before introducing Clark, Louisiana Tech President Les Guice told the graduates it was a day they’ll always remember.

“Many of those who started Tech with you aren’t here today,” Guice said. “Despite the challenges you faced, it was you who set goals and worked tirelessly to achieve them. It was you who showed perseverance and dedicated countless hours to study, research and attending class.

“You have made many memories that will truly last a lifetime,” Guice said. “Today is truly a milestone in your life’s journey.”

– T. Scott Boatright, boat@LATech.edu