Fifteen years ago I graduated from high school. I slapped a “I Done Real Good” sticker to the top of my cap to show off my excellent education and sharp wit. I strapped a super soaker to my thigh under my robe and waddled across the podium to get my diploma, none of my classmates the wiser. When our class was announced and our hats flew up into the air, I sprayed down my classmates and the administration with my giant water gun, reveling in my modest rebellion and newfound freedom. It seems I had barely finished with puberty, to look at the pictures now.
A decade and a half later, I can actually grow a full beard and I have to work to take off weight rather than work to put it on. Kids graduating this year are kids I’ve watched grow up. I’m a student pastor, and a lot like high school teachers, it’s rewarding to watch them mature and come into their own. As the class of 2014 walks across the stage and collectively say their goodbye to childhood, I have some sage advice I’d like to share:
You’ve spent the last ten years waiting for this moment and these opportunities. Now you’re going to spend the next ten wishing you could press rewind. Being a grown up is every child’s dream, and being a kid again is the fantasy of every adult.
No, but really. Your toughest days are ahead. You’ve been dragging your caboose out of bed for four years and mumbling under your breath about the difficulties of high school, but before you know it a kid is going to puke on your comforter at 3 a.m. and you will be awake the rest of the night, still expected to report to work that morning and not miss a beat. As it turns out, a heavy AP course load and three extra curricular commitments aren’t the busiest you’ll ever be. Each of your kids will have three commitments and your boss will need you to stay late and your spouse will need to talk something through and then right in the middle of an emotional breakdown by your four-year old your dishwasher will flood your kitchen and you’ll yearn for the days when your most stressful moments were the ones when you wondered if your basketball coach would play you that night or if that one guy would ask you to the dance.
You can’t do anything you set your mind to. That makes for a great commencement speech, but it’s not real life. There are things outside your control that will sabotage the process–things like recessions and buyouts and people cheating to gain an advantage. You’ll be tempted to cheat, too, in order to get on top. Don’t. Better advice than “You can do anything you set your mind to” is “Do the right thing, regardless of what happens.”
You are going to need some help along the way. I know we live in a country where we’re supposed to stiffen our lip and make things happen. I know hard work is valued highly, and you should work hard. But don’t you dare try to make a go of it on your own. You’ll be burnt out by your 10 Year Reunion. My personal recommendation is to lean heavy on Jesus, because I think He’s the real deal and worth trusting. And pick those friends at college wisely, because they’re likely to be friends for life. Don’t sell out to fit in, because fitting in with the wrong people is way worse than not fitting in at all.
Be a good friend, too. When you walk on your college campus or show up at your first day at a new job you’re going to expect a lot out of people. Just don’t forget that you will do better in life if you expect less from others and expect more from yourself. There will be a lot of newbies at college that are just as intimidated and lonely as you, so reach out. There will be a lot of new hires at the office that need to be shown around instead of given funny looks. Be a giver, not just a taker.
Don’t forget where you came from. You’ve been itching to get out, I know. But before long you’ll wish you could go back more often. That town, those teachers, that congregation, and especially that family–they made you who you are. Be grateful, and try not to be a stranger.
Talk to old people a lot. I get it. You think you’ve got all the best ideas and its time for the previous generation to get out of the way. You’re wrong. I was wrong. We can learn a lot from the people who went before us, and the sum total of their contribution to our lives is not to move over. If you take someone 30 years older than you to lunch once a month for the next ten years, you’ll be a wiser person at the end of that decade.
This is a great time of year, and you should celebrate like crazy. They call it commencement because one thing is ending and another is just beginning. Finish well, and remember that you’re just getting started. Take my advice and you’ll do just fine.
Congrats to the class of 2014. You done real good.