by Alex Hardt, Associate Pastor – Youth and Young Adults
For families in your church, few seasons are more emotional than the weeks surrounding high school graduation.
Graduation season is one filled with emotion. On one hand we celebrate the amazing accomplishments of our grads whether it be from preschool, high school, or college. On the other hand, we are attempting to comprehend what it means to live into this new reality. For some the move means going up a grade, for some it means changing schools, for some it means moving locations and meeting new people, for some it means entering into adulthood, and for some it means wandering into the unknown. As family and friends, we often meet this emotional overload in compassionate and loving ways. But sometimes we also do weird things like push these new grads harder, or plan their future, or take away the support they need during this transition or say awkward phrases like, “Why haven’t you even found a job?” “Have you started applying to grad school?” “The job market is lousy, how are you ever going to find a job?” “How long are you planning on living at home?” “What was (or is) your major?” “I didn’t know that was even a major.” “What was your test scores or GPA?” “Your cousin/sibling/friend of the family’s kid seems to be doing well in their completely unrelated field. Why don’t you give them a call?”
While we may think these things may be helpful, they are hindering or hurting our grads. Graduation for most high school or college students means the way of life they have come to understand for the last few years is about to come to a crashing halt. Friendships they built up over the years are going to change, how they interact with their family will look different, and everything from routines to hobbies to sleep patterns to work environment to where they live to how they do certain things will feel off or out of place. Graduation, while a joyous occasion, can often bring on a sense of grief. The graduates may feel a sense of loss in closing one chapter of their life as another opens.
So how do we help Grads process through this season of change?
From Awkward to Memorable
Allow Grads to dwell in the moment while also celebrating the entirety of their accomplishments along the way, not just the climax of their journey. There is so much more to who they are and what they have done, accomplished, and overcame along the way then just this one moment. Grads need to be reminded that their life is not and will not be defined by this one moment or any singular moment in time. Rather their identity should reside in Christ.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6
Set Grads up for Success
Let Grads know that your love and God’s love for them isn’t based upon whether they achieve something momentous or not. There is nothing you can do to cause God to love you any more than He already does—and there is nothing that will cause God to love you any less. He loves you, even more than you love yourself. How many times have we looked to the past as through it was a Golden Era, that our current trajectory will never culminate to what has been done? And that the love of God and others is therefore based upon what we can do. Affirm grads outside of their performance or accomplishments.
9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. – 1 John 4:9-10
Remind students where they belong
In our Sticky Faith research, we found that six out of seven youth group graduates felt unprepared for life after high school. – Fuller Youth Institute
Following graduation, a deep sense of loneliness follows. We see this in Elite athletes who experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) following the accomplishment of a great achievement like winning the Stanley Cup or Super Bowl. Many Elite athletes feel like they have come to the end of their journey as an athlete, and then try and slot themselves back into mainstream society, or after they have had to overcome a large hurdle within their chosen sport. Their whole life or the past few years has been oriented towards one thing and now that’s over Grads feel lost, lonely, and unsure of what to do next. Remind Grads that they are not alone in this next season. That you, as their friend or family member, are going to be there with them. That graduation isn’t saying goodbye. It’s welcoming them into the community as an adult. That they always belong here, to God, and they always have a community no matter how long they were away.
- Celebrate the journey
- Remind them that God’s love for them and your love is not based upon an achievement, event, or performance.
- Spend time with Grads and invest in who they are as an individual.
7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. – Luke 12:7
Resource // Growing with Podcast
A great resource for Parents and Leaders to learn how to walk with students and young adults: