NOTE: Since graduation is right around the corner for many, over the next 6 weeks I will be posting chapters from my new book for graduates, The Graduate Handbook.
Congratulations! You did it. After twelve years of fall break, Thanksgiving break, teacher in-service breaks, Christmas break, spring break, and summer break, the big break is finally here! School isn’t just out for the summer; it’s out for good. Shake your principal’s hand, move that tassel, do your dance, and pose for the camera. You are a graduate!
Take a moment and take it all in. You deserve it. You’ve just closed a chapter on some of the best moments in the book called My Life. What a ride it’s been, huh? Can you believe graduation is finally here? In the past seventeen-plus years, some if not many of the following have happened to you:
You rode your bike without training wheels for the first time.
You spent the night away from home (and Mom and Dad) for the first time.
You got your first A.
You got your first F.
You popped your first pimple.
You had your first crush.
You had your first date.
You prayed to have your first second date.
You went to your first prom.
You scored your first touchdown.
You scored your first kiss.
You worked your first job.
You got your first paycheck.
You drove your first car.
You got your first speeding ticket.
You sang your first solo in front of a packed house…and you killed it!
You’ve covered a lot of ground since your first day of school. You’ve made a lot of memories. You’ve experienced a lot of firsts. And now, a new first that’s also about a last—high school graduation. Countless others have stood where you now are and thought, Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I am free at last! And, just as quickly, countless others have stood where you are, only to realize that “Thank God I’m free” can easily turn into “What in the world just happened to me?!”
The few months following graduation from high school are a mix of emotions at best. I wish someone had taken the time to talk to me about post–high school life when I was your age. These can be some of the best times of your life, but they can be some of the most influential as well.
During the next five years, change will be inevitable in many areas of your life, such as moving away from home, attending and graduating from college, choosing a career, choosing a spouse, developing lifelong relationships, starting a company, joining a new church, traveling abroad, living abroad, purchasing a house, buying a car, applying for a loan, and much more! The next five years of your life are critical years for you. During these years, big decisions that will affect the rest of your life and those closest to you will be yours for the making.
Exciting? It should be. Overwhelming? At times it will be. Thrilling? Hopefully so! You stand at a threshold with two guarantees: One, you never have to go to high school again! Two, everything is going to change and change fast!
Remember, your role moving forward is to plan. God’s is to direct. Your planning releases His direction.
You can’t control the unknown or unexpected. But you can position yourself so that, when change does happen, you aren’t taken off-guard. I want to offer you a heads-up on some of the big changes I experienced along the way to help you be prepared to best respond to the what’s next of post-graduation.
Within a few months of receiving my high school diploma, I had moved out of the house, out of the state, and into a dorm room and was living with a guy I didn’t know on a college campus full of people I had never met before. And it didn’t start out so well.
You see, while in high school, I had wanted to pierce my ear. Keep in mind that this was long before it became the norm, especially for a guy, to have his ear, nose, lip, chin, eyebrow, or any number of other odd places pierced. My dad was adamant that as long as I lived at home I’d better not put a hole in any of my body parts. So, as you have probably surmised by now, once I got to college, I pierced my ear. In fact, I did it the first week of school. To save money, I had the piercing done by someone I met down the hall in my dorm. My life, my ear, and my freedom, right?
One of the biggest misconceptions most any eighteen year old has is that being a legal adult makes him or her a mature adult. Actually, the only big difference between your seventeenth birthday and your eighteenth birthday is that, starting with your eighteenth birthday, you get to go to jail with the big people if you screw up. So in this light, I guess I should have paused to consider that allowing someone I barely knew to stick a needle through my skin in his dorm room probably wasn’t the smartest move. Several nights later, after a $420 visit to the ER because of an infected ear, I found out the important principle that with freedom comes responsibility.
Until now, you’ve had someone helping to set boundaries in your life and making many of the big decisions for you. Now it’s your turn. Now more than ever you have the freedom and responsibility to make your own decisions and set your own boundaries. In short, from here on—every choice matters!
Life Will Never Be the Same
Of course, there is no way to know for sure what is ahead for you in life. But you can be sure of this—life will never again be as it was while you were in high school. Whether this is good or bad depends on many of the choices you make, especially within the next twelve months of your life.
Many of these changes are obvious, such as a new campus, job, friends, bedroom, and more. And many, if not most, of these changes you probably welcome. One biggie is that, from now on, consequences from a poor choice can be much greater than ever before. Up until now, your parents have probably disciplined you in love to the best of their ability. Going forward, however, mistakes no longer simply mean that you are grounded or lose your driving privileges for a weekend. Mistakes can be extremely costly, such as getting expelled from college, being fired from a job, losing your income, being incarcerated, and more. In short, the world’s system of discipline won’t judge the same as Mom and Dad have in the past.
Friends Will Scatter
Most if not all of your friends will go their different ways after graduation. Some will go to college, others will begin a career, others will join the armed forces, and others will get married.
In the years since I graduated high school, I have seen only two of my high school friends, and that was just a handful of times. I have very little information as to where those friends are now or what they are doing with their lives. I have no idea where the rest of my high school friends are.
I realize that my situation may not become yours. But the point is, the likelihood that you will no longer associate regularly with your high school friends after graduation is high.
Your Beliefs Will Be Tested
“I will give you an F if you don’t remove the Scripture references from your term paper!”
I heard those words from my English 101 professor when I was a first-semester freshman attending Belmont University, a Christian school. Yes, a Christian school. I don’t remember everything I wrote in that paper, but I do remember that the grade I received for it would be 100 percent of my grade for that class. I also remember using Scripture references several times throughout the paper to support my thesis. Thus my professor’s startling comment.
My professor was adamant that God’s Word was not relevant and reliable and had no validity in her class whatsoever. I knew my beliefs would be tested at some point during my collegiate experience. I never fathomed it would come this soon, not to mention from my professor at a Christian institution. I absolutely did not want to begin my collegiate career with an F. I also knew that I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t write what I believed in that paper and stand by it.
I chose to keep the Scriptures in the paper.
My professor didn’t flunk me, but she did give me a D. It was the first D I’d ever made. I wish I could tell you that was the only D I received throughout college. Unfortunately I cannot! But it is the one I’m most proud of.
Get ready! You’re in for a similar ride. Your beliefs may not align with mine as it relates to God. But know this: your beliefs will be tested, whatever they are! This happened to me, and not just in English 101. By the time I finished my freshman year of college, my beliefs about God, heaven, and hell came into question from new friends and co-workers that I made and met. And it wasn’t just my spiritual beliefs that were questioned. Likewise, there is a high probability that your beliefs about abortion, homosexuality, bisexuality, drinking, euthanasia, divorce, politics, the death penalty, and more will come into question in one way or another during the first few years after high school. This happened to me and it will happen to you too.
Do you know what you believe and why you believe it? Have you ever stopped to consider how, if asked, you would answer such questions as the following ones?
• What happens in the afterlife?
• Is it okay to marry someone of a different faith?
• Is abortion ever okay? Why or why not?
• What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
• If God loves everyone, why does He condemn people to hell?
This is just an example of what is to come. Now more than at any previous time in your life, it is critical that you know what you believe and why you believe it. Up until this point in your life, you have likely been surrounded and influenced by people with many, if not most, of the same beliefs as you. You, your parents, your family members, and current friends probably view things in a similar manner. This will change. Most of your new friends and acquaintances will have a different set of values than you and your family. If you aren’t solid in what you believe and why you believe it, you will begin shifting in your beliefs, and eventually you will become someone very different from the person you are today.
The point I want you to grab here is that your beliefs will be challenged, and challenged often, in a variety of ways from a mix of people. One goal of this book is to help you fully develop your belief system and lay down a strategy for remaining aligned in God’s Word so that you are prepared for the challenges of the next five years and the rest of your life.
Accountability Is Critical
Several people in my life today hold me accountable to God’s truths. These are a variety of people—some are family members and some are friends, some are similar in age to me and some are older. Helping me manage my time, pushing me to reach my potential, calling me out when I appear to be straying spiritually, and praying with me and for me are just a few of the ways that some of the closest people in my life help to keep me accountable. Such a process isn’t always comfortable or easy for me or them. However, these people are invaluable to me. And I hope I am the same for them.
I wish I’d had such people in my life when I was your age. I wish someone had told me the importance of having accountability partners and mentors in my life. I can’t stress enough how critical it is that you surround yourself with people who will keep you accountable. Here the quantity of people is not as important as the quality. This role cannot simply be filled by close friends or peers doing what they normally do. I am talking about the kind of accountability that isn’t satisfied with yes or no answers—accountability that goes beyond “I’m doing fine” answers, accountability that will look you eyeball to eyeball and ask you the tough questions about your life.
Such counsel may not be easy to find. But I am confident that if you search for it, you will find it.
Four Truths About Counsel
1. Not all counsel is godly.
Proverbs 30:5-6 (niv) says, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” Sometimes even those with the best of intentions can mislead you by misquoting or mistaking what the Bible says. I learned quickly in college that there will almost always be a peer, professor, or co-worker who claims allegiance to God but offers counsel contrary to that claim. As you receive counsel from others, always use Scripture as the gauge by which you test such counsel to determine whether it is of God or humans. Simply put, if a person’s suggestions, recommendations, or condemnations aren’t in sync with God’s, then such counsel is wrong, no matter how popular, culturally relevant, or accepted the person!
2. Not all counsel needs receiving.
You can’t always control the counsel you hear, but you can control the counsel you choose to take in and act upon. Pray that God will guard your heart from hearing, receiving, and retaining ungodly counsel. Proverbs 1:5 (niv) says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”
3. Some counsel will require humility.
There is a myth that once you graduate from high school you suddenly have more knowledge. The key word here is myth. Yes, hopefully the fact that you are graduating means that you have gained knowledge. But graduating doesn’t mean you have gained all knowledge! The older I get, the more I seem to meet people who have more life experience, more wisdom, and more discernment than I. And though their counsel has often left me humbled, it has also brought to my attention areas of my life that need addressing while equally pushing me to be a better person.
4. Godly counsel is second to God’s counsel.
“You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into your glory.” The writer of Psalm 73:24 (niv) understood that no counsel was more real and relevant for him than God’s. Likewise, God desires a real relationship with you. Later in this handbook, I will talk in greater detail about steps you can take every day to know Him more. But know this now: if you commit daily to spending time with God, His counsel will guide you and grow you in ways far beyond your post–high school aspirations and dreams.
Lift It Up
Throughout this handbook,I will provide prayers to help you stop, think over what you have read, and pray it through. Obviously, you don’t have to pray our written prayers word for word. But whether it’s the words in this book leading you or your own, I hope you’ll take the time to pause, reflect, and lift your heart to Him.
That is certainly something you should be doing as you look ahead to all the changes you can expect in the months and years ahead of you. You’re about to make some big decisions that will help to set your course for life. So pray to God about it now.
Thank You for having Your hand on my life thus far. Thank You for bringing me to this new season of my life called post-grad. It would be foolish of me to believe I know it all and thus have no need to know You more. I want to know You more. I want to become the person You already know I can be. Throughout the next five-plus years of my life, I know there will be a lot to take in and live out. I don’t dare go it alone. Please lead me. As I spend time in this handbook, show me what I need to see about myself. Show me areas of my life that need addressing. And prepare me to go and live the life You have created me to live as a Christ-follower honoring You in it all. Amen.