How much of your last year of high school do you really remember?
My clearest memory is the beach party I had with friends the morning after my graduation. We’d spent the evening and early morning hours having clean fun all night in Chicago, somehow ending up on Lake Michigan at sunrise. It was the perfect symbol of our lives ahead.
But even then I honestly couldn’t remember all that had happened prior to that moment. The final year of high school for most seniors is nothing short of dizziness from busyness. Months feel like a millennium of moments. Everything changes as our closest friends head into faraway pursuits. Many emerging adults aren’t sure if they’re done being a kid.
So how do we honor our graduates and help them prepare for their next steps when they aren’t even sure if they understand the steps that got them there?
There are plenty of practical ideas out there. So how about some organic investments?
#1—Create Breathing Room:
Our church blesses our juniors and seniors every month by slowing down together. Sometimes this sub-group of teenagers and leaders go out after a Wednesday night program and eat appetizers at Applebee’s. Other times, instead of small groups, we create peanut-butter-and-jelly stations for them to be creative, downshift, and chit-chat with each other.
“Paul” and “Megan” who as siblings are both graduating this year. They’ve spent years challenging each other (in good ways) to be at their best academically. Each serves in our church in multiple ways, too, always giving their best to God. The casualty has been that there isn’t much margin in their lives for Sabbath. As we’ve slowed down with them for our Legacy Nights, they’ve both shared how much they’ve appreciated the chance to simply “be” instead of “do.”
We’ve found that our upperclassmen don’t want to miss this unique time each month. Ironically, they will actually schedule it in the midst of their busyness so they can be not-so-busy together.
#2—Keep an Open Seat at the Table:
“Alan” graduated last year and lives 90 minutes away from our church. Whenever he’s in town we find a way to help him feel like he’s still a part of the family—not by having him be a “big kid” in our group, but by giving him opportunities to lead our worship team.
Alan isn’t usually alone, though. When others from his graduating class are around, we honor them by letting them sit in the back of our youth room, then leave to gather in their own small group in a side room. Rather than shunting them aside because they’re too old, we help them find each other in familiar space. It’s a fine line—there are always risks that this could go south, or they could start flirting with younger students. We emphasize that they’re at the “grown-up table,” and we expect them to act accordingly.
#3—Tell the Story:
Technology allows us to tell really good stories, especially if you tap into all those photos and videos from when your graduates were younger. In our Pinterest-saturated era, the ideas are limitless. What is missing is someone to tie it all together. You may not have the time to pull it off before they go off to college. The good news? You don’t have to.
I remember getting a phone call from “Wayne” who was away at college and going through a tough season. At the conclusion of our conversation, I knew he needed a reminder of who he was. I remembered we had footage of him teaching in a student service, so I compiled a montage and dropped it in the mail. It wasn’t long afterward that we connected again—he had reclaimed what had been forgotten. Sometimes what a graduate needs to bear fruit today is a reminder of the roots they planted years ago.
The true hurdle in all of this? We have to care beyond saying we care. We have to value the transition out of 12th grade with the same care and attention as elementary kids coming into middle school, or middle school kids coming into high school. Graduates may be leaving, but we don’t need to leave them.
Whats’ working for you? What are your stories of success on this journey?