At ESN, we deeply value supporting and mentoring the next generation. In this post, Scott Santibanez, an ESN author who often writes for graduate students and faculty here at the ESN blog, takes a moment to share encouragement and advice for students finishing their undergraduate careers and moving on to the next steps in their vocation. If you are a graduating senior, we’re glad you’re here, and we hope this post encourages you in this key moment. If you’re heading to grad school and want to find community along the way, you can learn more about our network of Christian academics here and look for an InterVarsity grad chapter here. If you are a professor or graduate student and you know seniors who are believers, please consider sharing this post with them. For students headed to graduate school, it may be a great introduction to ESN. For others, we hope it’s encouraging as they pursue whatever God is calling them to next.
The Ancient Greeks had a word they called Kairos. It referred to a critical moment in time when a person’s actions could have a big impact on the future. Graduation is one such moment. Beyond the celebrations, parties, and bittersweet memories, graduation can be a defining point in who you are. As you look back over the past few years, you may be proud of some things you’ve done, and regret other things. Graduation provides you with an opportunity to make a fresh start. Here are 5 things to consider as you move forward into the next phase of life.
1. Prioritize your walk with God.
Consider your relationship with God as you graduate and move on to a new stage. Look for a local congregation in your area. Find a group of Jesus’ followers that fits you—one that can help you begin to find the answers to your own unique life questions. The church you choose may differ from what your parents, previous pastors, teachers, and friends have in mind. These individuals may be important resources, but they cannot answer life’s questions for you. With God’s help, each person must find the answers for him or herself. God may lead you to a different type of congregation than you are used to, or he may bring you full circle—back to the type of church that you already know, but with a fresh perspective.
Realize that God is not only limited to the things we usually think of as religious. If you have eyes to see him, you can recognize God’s presence throughout your life—in all your fear, celebration, anger, hope, joy, and laughter. Invite God to be a part of your life. Allow his presence to become so much a part of who you are that you cannot imagine doing life without him.
2. Cherish your family and friends.
Life goes by quickly. As you graduate and enter a new life stage, remember to stay involved in your younger relatives’ lives. Be present as your siblings, nieces, and nephews struggle, succeed, make mistakes and grow.
Call or visit your parents and grandparents. Find out things you never knew about them. Look at their old pictures. Listen to their stories. Who were they when they were your age? Were they full of hope and possibilities? Did they fight to overcome difficulties?
Stay in touch or reconnect with friends. Accept that friendship can be frustrating. You won’t always get it right. Don’t let pettiness or disagreements over unimportant things lead you and the people you care about to grow apart. Be gracious. Give credit to others. Accept the blame when you’re at fault.
Realize that we are all finite. Over time, friends and loved ones will begin to pass away. Some will leave you after a long life. Others will be taken before their time. Our joy, pain, suffering and fear are what make us human. Our mortality makes us rely on people, and gives us opportunities to care for others.
3. Find Joy in Everyday Things.
Life will get stressful. Sometimes it is due to school, and other times work, relationships, family, or money. As you enter a new stage of life, learn to step back and enjoy everyday things—a walk outside, your favorite music, a good book, a road trip. Find a favorite spot—like a park or a quite place—where you can go to experience serenity, pray or read your Bible.
You may find that it gets harder to bounce back physically as your body begins to age and grow differently. You can’t run as fast, lift as much, or shed excess pounds as quickly. Finding enjoyment in everyday things can help you to relieve stress on your spirit and also take care of your body. When you’re able to find joy in everyday activities, you may find that you don’t need to overindulge in food or alcohol, take unnecessary risks, or engage in harmful activities or unwise relationships just to be happy.
4. Accept change.
The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “For everything there is a season.” (Ecclesiastes 3:3a) As you graduate and enter a new phase of life, you may need to leave some relationships and aspects of life behind. Sometimes you have to let old dreams end so that new ones can begin. When you let something go, it can be tempting to carry around unhelpful memories or dwell on negative thoughts for months or even years. Holding on to past times when you’ve been hurt can rob you of hope and optimism for the future. Learn to accept God’s grace and extend forgiveness to others.
Try new things. Don’t spend your life full of regrets, wishing you had done something differently. Sign up for a new class. Ask that guy or girl you keep thinking about out. Find something that God has given you a passion for and try it. God sometimes calls us to choose unexpected paths. Be open to him leading you to new situations.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You may try something new, only to discover that it is not a good fit. It’s okay. Accept that you will have some false starts. Be grateful for the opportunity to gain life experience that makes you better prepared to face the future.
5. Speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Stand in solidarity with family members, classmates or friends who are being treated unjustly. Support the causes that you believe in. Find ways to use your own unique skills and strengths to help others. It could mean speaking, writing, or just being present for people.
As you stand up for your beliefs, realize that sometimes when we are doing something that we think is important, we can be insensitive to the people around us. Remember to be kind—both to those with whom you disagree, and to the people that you care about. Don’t look back and regret placing greater value on an ideal or a goal than the actual people around you.
Graduation is a time when your actions can have a big impact on your future. You have an opportunity to make a fresh start. The following questions may help you to reflect upon and think through the possibilities.
1. Where does God fit among the priorities in your life? Do you see God as just one of several equally important options? Consider this question honestly. Don’t feel obligated to give the perfect Christian answer. What might making God a priority in your life look like?
2. Describe your family or group of close friends. Do you ever let differences or disagreements keep you apart? What might you need to do to make amends?
3. Have you ever engaged in unwise activities that seemed like a good idea at the time but you later regretted? How might you learn from the experience so you don’t make the same mistakes in the future?
4. Do you have a favorite place where you can go to experience peace and serenity? Describe.
5. Do you ever dwell on past times when you feel you’ve been treated unfairly? Do you need God’s help in letting go?
6. Are there new directions God may want to take you in? Explain.
7. Have you ever felt the need to stand up for something that you believe in? Do you have regrets about times when you should have spoken out but did not? How can you use your own unique skills and strengths to stand up for others?
8. Do you ever become consumed by something that you think is important? How can you avoid becoming so focused that you unintentionally hurt those around you?
Tito Scott Santibañez is an adjunct professor at Emory University and Trinity School for Ministry. As a volunteer physician, he has provided medical care for underserved populations for nearly 25 years. He also has a doctorate from seminary.