Dear Graduates, A Glorious Commencement Awaits

It’s a good year to graduate from college—no matter what a few curmudgeonly journalists over at The Wall Street Journal and Forbes say. Yes, the unemployment rate for those between 20 and 24 isn’t great, but it’s better than it was for last year’s class. [1] Plus, having a college degree—though not a silver bullet—drastically improves employability. [2]

Plus, “the best workplaces are getting better.” In part, that’s because more business leaders realize how much young people care about workplace culture—60 percent of new graduates say they want to work at a place with a “positive social atmosphere,” even if that means taking a lower salary.

But they don’t just want good workplaces; they want good work, too. “New grads are idealistic and altruistic (their top two career choices are education and health care),” Accenture notes. Last year, Barna research found that 87 percent of evangelical millennials want to live out their faith in all of life—“from vocation to prayer life to Instagram feed,” says David Kim, executive director of the Center for Faith & Work.

Disillusionment in the Disconnect

As opportunities have increased, so have expectations. More than a quarter of this year’s class expects to make more than $50,000 right out of the gate—even though, among recent graduates, only 17 percent do so. Plus, 71 percent of the new graduates have loans averaging $35,000 each, which hampers their ability to choose workplaces that offer what they want—a “positive social atmosphere” and “altruistic” work.

It won’t be long before they discover the disconnect between grandiose dreams and day-to-day realities. One of my friends who graduated last year, for example, is having a hard time transitioning from college, where she developed a robust vision of vocation and calling, to the workplace, where her life seems small and mundane.

“I was told that I’d be an agent of renewal in culture,” she says, “but my life doesn’t look that way. Not even close.”

Kingdom Riches and Godly Persecution

Timothy had a big calling. Paul affectionately referred to him as “my true child in faith” (1 Tim. 1:2) and “my beloved child” (2 Tim. 1:2). Paul even said that he had “no one like him” (Phil. 2:20). But Paul knew that Timothy was timid, so he wrote to remind him of the present and eternal value of godliness (1 Tim. 4:8) and the certainty of God’s riches (1 Tim. 6:17-18).

Persecution was a real threat to Timothy, and no one knew that danger better than his mentor (2 Cor. 11:21-29), who warned him, saying, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Paul wanted to prepare Timothy so that, when affliction came, he wouldn’t be disillusioned by the disconnect between his calling and the reality of his life, thinking, Is this happening because my faith—or worse, my God—isn’t real? He longed for Timothy to hold fast, remembering, I’m not surprised by this persecution; Paul said this would happen.

Contentment in All Circumstances

College students remind me of Timothy. They might have big callings, but they’re often timid when facing the uncertain future.

In January, I met with graduating seniors at The King’s College, where I serve as Director of Vocational and Career Development, to encourage them. I asked them to write their life-after-college worst-case scenarios on a sheet of paper. One student wrote, “That I’d break up with my girlfriend, move home to live with my parents, get addicted to drugs, and lose my faith.” Then I asked them to write their audacious career goals on another piece of paper. Another student wrote, “That I’d start my own real estate development firm, have a family, and run for Senate.”

I then told them to take their worst-case scenarios, crumple them up, and toss them in the trash can. “Those probably aren’t going to happen,” I said. Now take the big career goals, make paper airplanes, and send them soaring through the air. “Those probably aren’t going to happen either—at least, not yet.”

The key to surviving disillusionment, I said, is found in accepting God’s providential care. As Proverbs 30 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (vv. 8-9). The secret to contentment, in other words, is found in seeking God’s face, not our hands. It trusts the Planner, not the plans.

Commencement is a beginning. It launches graduates into “the real world,” which is full of disconnects that breed disillusionment—beauty and brokenness, debt and riches, joy and suffering. In this age, it will always be the best of times and the worst of times.

But there’s an age to come, and to which our content lives can now point. As Richard Mouw once told a graduating class:

There is a greater commencement that is coming, and when we get to that commencement, we will wear robes again—not our academic robes at that commencement, but the pure robes of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. (Rev. 7:9-10) . . . That is where we are headed if we are followers of Jesus. So be faithful—live with courage and hope in obedience to the cause of the gospel. And then we will see each other there at the more glorious commencement that is coming!

I pray that the graduates of the Class of 2015 find much success in their careers—not as naïve idealists or curmudgeonly pessimists, but as humble servants ready to seek the glory of God and the joy of others in their work. And may we all look forward to that glorious commencement that is to come.


[1] In April 2015, the unemployment rate for those between the ages of 20 and 24 was 9.6 percent. In May 2014, it was 11.1 percent. In fact, employers say they’ll hire almost 10 percent more graduates this year than they did last year.

[2] In 2013, the unemployment rate for those between the ages of 20 and 24 was 15 percent—but it was only 7 percent for those with college degrees and 29 percent for those who did not complete high school. [source]

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