Why attend a retirement dinner? To honor the retiree, of course. He (or she) is the focus when speakers describe accomplishments, tell a few funny stories to show his human side, and present a gift from admirers who have gathered to congratulate him.
All that happened at the last retirement dinner I attended. But since then I’ve decided the greatest benefit of a retirement dinner may not come to the person or couple retiring, but to everyone else at the party. We hear the accolades and wonder, What will people say about me when I get to the end of my career? It’s the kind of contemplation that can stimulate real growth.
Consider, for example, a few quotes below from the dinner I attended, along with the questions they prompt as I reflect on each testimony. (The honored retirees, in this case, were a husband and wife.)
• “I can’t separate the contribution of this couple to our organization from their impact on me, which has been profound.” Do those I work with feel my concern for them, as well as for our organization?
• “I’ve seen how much he cares about people. He always talks about the strength of the people he works with.” Am I as interested in the progress of my coworkers as I am in my status and reputation?
• “Their lives display servanthood.” But does my life display self-interest?
• “Success is not measured by what you achieve or accumulate, but by what you’ve left behind. By any metric you choose, by this definition, this couple has been a great success.” When I’m ready to retire, will people be talking more about me or the work that will continue in my absence?
• “He seeks to be a minister to the faculty.” How do I view those who report to me—only as resources to be managed, or also as people do be served?
Maybe you’ve guessed the event. Maybe you know the people described, Don and Clarinda Jeanes, president and “first lady” at Milligan College in Tennessee. They retire from their service there this summer, and close to 500 attended the celebration dinner in their honor this spring.
The heartfelt tributes and standing ovations throughout the evening clearly were more than polite gestures. Those who worked closest with this couple saw two people who sought first to glorify God and serve others. It was an evening we were pleased to attend, but the greatest result may come as each of us reconsiders our own stewardship of the opportunities God is giving us. Even for the younger folks in the crowd, retirement will come sooner than we think.