Covers. In my house, covers are the lids that keep leftovers from drying out in the refrigerator (until we throw them out two weeks later). Or they’re the warm quilts pulled under our chins when summer air turns brisk during Pacific Northwest nights. But a while back I discovered a new, intriguing definition for “covers”.
On a news show I was watching, a proud father told about his son who’d just graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and described one of the most moving parts of this experience—something called ‘covers.’ At the end of the ceremony, after four arduous years of effort as midshipmen, the graduates celebrate their positions as newly commissioned officers by throwing their hats, or “covers,” into the air. This grand covers tradition (sometimes called the hat toss) originated at the Naval Academy in 1912.
While seeing caps tossed at graduations isn’t new to most of us, it’s what happens next at Annapolis that gets me. As hundreds of the white hats are flung skyward by ecstatic graduates, scores of children and teens rush from their places in the stands to claim one the abandoned covers as their own. (You can find Internet video clips of this scene from various sources—pretty moving.)
Not only do the graduating midshipmen tolerate this scavenging of their hats, they expect it and prepare for it. They write their names and often tuck little messages into their covers, things they want to pass along to those who pick up what they leave behind. At times, they even slip money into those hats without knowing who might be the beneficiary of their generosity.
It seems like we live in a “hold onto your hat” world, especially when it comes to title, position, and possessions—the things we work so hard to acquire. But there comes a season when each of us, no matter how entrenched, will have to leave behind some of the hats we are wearing today. How much better to toss them gleefully into the air at the right time than to have them pried from the fingers and fists we use in a vain attempt to keep them on our heads. Knowing when to let go is one of the wisest, and most freeing, lessons we’ll ever learn.
As someone who’s pretty passionate about mentoring those just a little behind me on the road of life, I’ve been thinking about the covers ceremony and what it might mean in that context:
- Am I wearing my current hat in such a way that I’d want my name left in it? Would I be proud or ashamed for a younger person to associate what I do with who I am?
- What message do I want to leave behind for someone else to find? I’m grateful for spiritual leaders who told me following Jesus isn’t always easy but is so worth it—that authentic faith in a real God makes a difference in life and eternity. I’m glad for the high school teacher who said, “Jodi, you can write!” I treasure words from an old pastor who looked a couple of newlyweds in their starry eyes and said, “Hey, you two…love expressed will never die.” Those are messages I picked up and still carry with me today.
- Do I offer more than a hat-full of words? I think of dear friends who absolutely delight in giving (often in secret) to young persons they want to encourage. Their outrageously joyful generosity inspires me to follow their example.
- Am I okay with not knowing who will find my legacy or how they will use it? In life, there’s a lot of tossing our best into the air and trusting it to make a difference for someone, somewhere—even when we can’t see the outcome. But Jesus sees, and I think He smiles.
So, hats off to all you mentors out there. Your influence is “covering” a lot more ground than you think!
What are your best mentoring tips? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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