As the end of the school year approaches, many families are both anticipating and dreading the date on their calendars that marks their high schooler’s graduation. As a parent, I fully embrace what a joyous yet bittersweet day this is in the life of a family as we celebrate the graduation of our seniors. As a church, we want to walk with our families well during this season and celebrate with them.
Typically churches have a Senior Sunday where they recognize graduates, honor them in some way, and give them an opportunity to share what they will be doing next in life. Many of our young people are excited and nervous to enter college in the fall, some in local institutions and others moving away to attend universities in other cities or even states. Then there will certainly also be graduating seniors who are taking a different path. Some may enter the workforce, travel, or pursue something else.
The summer before college and the first year following high school graduation is quite often a pivotal year in a young person’s life. How they handle the new responsibilities and freedoms that come with high school graduation can set them on the path to success or unfortunately for some, a nosedive into major regret.
What can we do as a church to better support and prepare families for what comes after high school graduation?
What if instead of just a Sunday recognizing what they have accomplished, we took some time over the summer to prepare them for what is next? We want to honor and celebrate all they have accomplished by finishing high school, but we also want to make sure they are ready for the challenges they will face in the fall.
Here are some ideas to set your seniors up for success! Host a series of meetings and invite your seniors and their parents to attend together. You could have it a few Wednesday or Sunday nights during the summer. Make sure it is a time of celebration and fun and worth their time.
1) Invite the experts
Whether as a panel or as speakers, invite young people a few years out of high school who have a variety of life experiences. Include students attending a local college, students who moved away to college, and young people who decided not to attend college. Also invite parents of these students so families can hear from all perspectives.
2) After High School 101
Talk through real life issues young people need to be prepared for, such as: balancing a checkbook, college terminology, car maintenance, time management, choosing friends wisely, navigating college financial aid, relationships that change after graduation, etc. Hearing real life examples from students older than them can be tremendously impactful on your seniors and having the opportunity to ask questions to more experienced parents can be very helpful.
3) Introduce new resources
Invite leaders from religious organizations on college campuses in your state to come share with your group. They can share the many opportunities young people have to connect socially and spiritually with other Christ-followers on campus as well as ways to plug into local churches and seek spiritual encouragement while in college. You could also invite counselors who can speak to the changes that often take place between parents and children as they graduate. The first year after high school can often be a difficult and sometimes painful pull and tug relationship as a young person seeks independence from his/her parents.
4) Address the heart
Most importantly, remind parents and students that what is at stake during this season is their hearts. Remind them that the church is there to help them walk through this season. For students who will remain home or in your city, make sure to let them know that there is a secure place for them in your church body and they are needed and celebrated. For students who are moving away, remind them to stay connected until it is time for them to move, but also do all you can to help them find connections in their new school and new city even before they move. Providing a resource list for the city and universities in your state can give families a jump start on establishing a support system for their student even before he/she moves. This list could include churches, Christian organizations, reputable mechanics, counselors, and fitness centers.
5) Don’t cut the ropes
Make sure to connect each student with an adult mentor who will commit to stay connected with them throughout the next school year. Recruit volunteers who will commit to pray for their particular students and communicate with them monthly whether via email, text, snail mail, or phone calls. Recruit an older couples who have had children attend college to stay connected to each set of parents to encourage them and pray for them.
These years are so exciting but can be overwhelming and terrifying at the same time for both student and parent. What better time to come around these families and pray them through? We need to do all we can to make sure their students come out on the other side, thriving and walking in obedience to all the Lord has planned for him/her.
Let’s not only celebrate our seniors but empower them and encourage them as they transition into what is next!