Before You Go: Words of Wisdom for the Class of ’16



I graduated from High School in May of 1999.

There was a lot I did not know about the world back then.

It’s the season where another graduating class will toss their caps and move their tassels and naively march toward adulthood. Class of 2016, you have grown up with the internet at your fingertips and access to knowledge the likes of which the world has never seen.

Still, there’s a lot about this world you don’t know. 

I’m still learning 17 years after my commencement exercises, but there are 3 things I thought I’d toss your way, just in case you’re in the mood to listen to an old geezer give you some free, unsolicited advice.

#1 Life is hard. 

I know, I know, you’ve been balancing your schedule of extra-curricular activities and been enrolled in all those AP classes. You’ve likely had your heart broken and perhaps even suffered a real tragedy of some sort. But relief does not wait for you at the end of the summer. You think the last four years have been difficult? The next four (shoot, the next 40) will make you dream of the last four years when “life was much simpler.”

I don’t mean to say life gets worse…In some ways, it gets better. You’ll fall in love (for real). You might have some kids. You’ll enjoy a satisfying career. You’ll get more comfortable in your own skin.

But just because it gets better doesn’t mean it gets easier.

Staying in love is harder than falling in love and people die and treat you unfairly and disappoint you and life is messy. You’ll be broke. You’ll feel hopeless. You’ll be lonely.

I’ve cried more as an adult than I ever did as a kid.

Back in 1999 I didn’t know how hard it was to parent or pay bills or stand up for what was right or suffer loss. My biggest existential crisis was when we got upset in the regional basketball finals. Oh to only have those sorts of problems in my mid-30s.

My advice: Buckle up. You’ve just ended four of the easiest years of your life.

#2 Success is slow

While you’ve matured being entertained by Instagram and YouTube celebrities who got famous without accomplishing much of anything, that’s not normally how life works. PewDiePie is the exception, not the rule. If you want to be good at something or known for something, you’re going to have to work at it. Really, really hard. 10,000 hours, research suggests. You’re likely not even a third of the way to 10,000 hours in anything you’ve done during high school. So don’t expect to be a famous millionaire at 24. It’s probably not going to happen.

My advice? Turn off the video games and get a mentor. Ask questions.  Watch TED Talks. Volunteer. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Don’t value comfort too highly. Look in the mirror less often than you look into someone else’s eyes. Travel. Stock up on a wide range of experiences so you can see what the world is really like. Jon Acuff suggests that we don’t really discover who we are until we’re in our 30s and go through a period of life editing. Be okay with that. I’m 34, and just now getting there. I could be frustrated. Instead, I’ve never been happier. My best days are still ahead. They are also 20 years in the making. Don’t sweat it.

If success is your obsession, you’re likely to be unfaithful. If you determine to be faithful, success will come. Take the long view, be faithful, and realize success is usually slow.

#3 Jesus is the answer

When I graduated high school we had a spiritual service before graduation called Baccalaureate. It was optional, but in our small town nearly everyone came anyway, even non-believers.

I stood at my graduating class’s Baccalaureate service in the spring of 1999 with a fist full of index cards and was tasked with communicating to my classmates what I thought would be the most helpful advice I could offer. Too ignorant to be profound but smart enough to know to keep it simple, I shared one simple truth I was convinced was true. I still am.  So I’ll leave it to you, too.

Jesus is the answer.

There will be a lot of questions in life:

  • Where do I fit in?
  • Does anyone really love me?
  • What is the point of my life?
  • Is there any hope?
  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Where can I turn for help?
  • How could this happen?

Perhaps you’ve asked some of those questions already. They aren’t going anywhere. I ask just as many now as I did when I was 17. Jesus was, and remains, the One I turn to for answers.

He is not an easy answer every time, but He is the answer.

My advice? As you go off to do whatever it is you’re about to do — start college, join the armed forces, take a gap year, start work — build into that experience some time for spiritual searching. Give church a try. Have coffee with a Christian you know before you leave this fall. Do some reading to challenge your presuppositions. Crack open a Bible and read the Gospel of Mark. Get to know who Jesus really is.

Look, you probably don’t know me and you certainly don’t have to listen to me. But there are some things about this world that you might be taking for granted without even realizing it. In the end, if you’ll take my advice and buckle up, slow down, and figure out what Jesus means to you, you’ll be way ahead of the game.