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Graduation is a time of paradox—excitement combined with fear, beginnings blurred with endings, plans riddled with uncertainty. But it’s only the start of the rollercoaster called adulthood.

It’s been two years since I received my high school diploma. I’ve been on a learning curve about life, God, and navigating the culture as an “official” adult. Since graduation, I’ve messed up, made mistakes, and grown a lot. I’ve gained experience and knowledge I wish I’d known years ago. But I’ve also seen the handprints of wise individuals upon my life who shaped and molded me before graduation day.

Here are four pieces of life advice that can support and equip the grads in your life as they venture into the world.

1. Plans and Dreams Change (But God Doesn’t)

Inside one of the many graduation cards I received, there was a small but power-packed piece of wisdom: “God’s plan will take you places in your life you haven’t thought of yet.”

Unlike many other graduates, I didn’t have a perfectly mapped out four-year plan, complete with college, degree, and subsequent successful career. I graduated two years early (homeschooler’s perk) armed with a desire to minister to teens and a passion to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, I didn’t know exactly how that plan would unfold.

The pressure for a new graduate to appear successful and confident is excruciating. This is intensified by the well-meaning individuals who ask, as a form of small talk, “So, what are your plans now?” Not having a ready answer—or a traditional one—can turn a simple question into an agonizing struggle for grads who feel the pressure to perform according to everyone’s expectations.

One of the most encouraging truths you can share with a graduate is that even if their plans falter, God’s vision for their life is still secure. His purpose may (or may not) be different than what they were anticipating, but he will lead and guide them every step of the way.

That’s a truth they’ll be able to hold onto throughout their entire lives, even when graduation is a distant memory.

2. A Degree Is Optional (But Integrity and Maturity Aren’t)

In our culture, college has increasingly become a prerequisite for success. Going on to higher education can open a world of possibilities. Yet often we’re so busy caring about our grad’s career goals that we forget about their soul.

Colleges and degrees help graduates navigate the world of business, finances, and to get (and hold down) that little thing called a job. But there’s more to the substance of our lives. Grads need to consider their future work, but they also need to remember their souls.

Grads need to consider their future work, but they also need to remember their souls.

Integrity, honesty, compassion, self-giving, and spiritual disciplines uphold graduates through the trials and tough times every adult faces. Focusing on the heart and pointing them to Jesus, we will encourage grads to be giving, sensitive, Christ-following individuals throughout their lives.

3. The World Will Tug at Your Heart (So Stand Firm)

A few months after graduating, I scribbled a few sentences on a scrap piece of paper:

Do I need their applause, approval, or acceptance? Should I alter my life to impress them, even if it’s not what would impress the Lord? Should I be swept into the current of what’s popular and lauded?

I don’t recall what I was referring to, or who “they” were. It’s a snapshot, though, into the mind of someone struggling to be accepted in a culture unaccepting of anyone who varies from the status quo.

As teens head off to colleges and jobs, they’ll encounter a whole new level of peer pressure. New classmates and co-workers will influence—and perhaps change—them. Post-graduation is a season where commitments are tested and integrity tried.

That’s why it’s vital to send them off strong and equipped, committed to standing firm on truth. Point them to Scripture. Hold them accountable. Encourage them to find—and join—a local church. Model integrity. And most importantly, pray fervently. As you do, you’ll help them stand strong.

4. Keep God First (Always)

The most powerful way you can help set grads up for success is by pointing them to Jesus Christ. Our human counsel can, and will, fall short. His never will.

As I think about the comments I received during graduation, I mostly heard things along the lines of “Reach for the stars” and “You’ve got this!” My friends wanted the best for me, and I’m thankful they cared enough to encourage me. But most of the words were hollow.

What if, instead of, “Reach for the stars,” we told our grads, “Reach for Jesus”? What if, instead of, “You’ve got this” we reminded them, “God’s got this”? What if we created with our words, and actions, a climate of desperate dependance on Christ? What if we prompted them to keep God first, no matter what?

We would have a generation of graduates more passionate about Jesus and more devoted to the things of God.

We only have so much influence over our graduates. So in addition to supporting them and cheering them on, point them to Jesus. And don’t forget to pray for their endeavors and successes. Pray they don’t give up after failure. Pray God leads them every day of their lives. Pray God places wise and godly people—and a healthy church—in their path. Pray they’ll stand strong and fix their eyes on Christ.

Those beloved grads are in God’s hands, and he’ll never let them go.

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