Hey there, graduating class of 2020.
You never thought this would be your story, did you? Who expects to graduate in the middle of a pandemic? Who expects all their years of hard work to end in such an anticlimactic way?
Yet that’s the story of many grads this year. Commencement ceremonies are canceled, postponed, or made virtual. Some schools are mailing diplomas instead of handing them out. Final events, trips, and open houses—all canceled. Everything is suspended, and nothing looks like the dreams each grad held for their graduation.
Who expects to graduate in the middle of a pandemic? Who expects all their years of hard work to end in such an anti-climactic way?
It’s incredibly disappointing. For many seniors, it’s devastating. I’ve heard from numerous grads who’ve said things like: “Everything I was looking forward to has been canceled,” “I always imagined my graduation . . . but I never imagined this,” or “It feels like everything I worked for is suddenly just gone.”
My own high-school graduation was four years ago, and I can understand the disappointment this year’s grads are experiencing. Graduation is an important life moment, and one you never forget.
How can you respond when your expectations are shattered? How can you grieve the loss, but then move on? Here are four things for graduates (and those who love them) to remember as they’re dealing with disappointment.
1. Graduating is still a major accomplishment.
We can take satisfaction in the fact that we did our work to the best of our ability, and comfort in the fact that God can use even our occasionally half-hearted efforts. We offer our years of work to God for his glory and await his “well done” (Matt. 25:23), regardless of whether our labors are acknowledged in a school ceremony.
2. You’re not the first grad to experience disappointment.
You’re the first graduates to experience a coronavirus pandemic. But you’re not the first to experience disappointment and disruption.
Before COVID-19, our generation had never walked through a tragedy on such a worldwide level. But our grandparents had. Our great-grandparents had. Every generation before us could point to their own version of catastrophe, whether World War 1 or 2, the Great Depression, or the Spanish Flu. From young people forced from their plans and dreams because of a world war, or teens whose parents couldn’t afford to put them through school, or even teens today whose lives and futures are stolen due to devastating injustices like human trafficking, abuse, and poverty, we shouldn’t think our disappointments and disruptions are uncommon.
What we’re experiencing is not new, though it’s new to us. This helps to give us perspective.
How you live is more important than how you graduate.
And let’s not forget the families whose lives will never be the same because of this virus. For them, COVID-19 has stolen much more than the chance to walk across a stage in a cap and gown. It has stolen lives and livelihoods. These effects will be felt for years to come.
3. This won’t be your last life detour.
Life is marked by uncertainty. The coronavirus will not be the last detour we experience or the last time our expectations are crushed. We have a unique opportunity to consider our response at this moment and to grasp the truths it can teach. How will we respond to the detours life throws our way? For grads embarking on a new future, this is the first test.
As Winston Churchill told a defeated-yet-bracing-for-battle Britain in 1940, this could be “our finest hour.” If we’re willing to brace for the fight and entrust our future to God, we can grow in strength and resilience. Instead of defeating us with discouragement, trials can produce character and hope (see Rom. 5:3–4).
We don’t know what the future might bring. College plans may be put on hold. Career choices may dissolve. Future expectations and life plans may result in heartbreak, loss, and pain. But we can rest in the security that, though our futures are uncertain, we serve a God who knows all things and is himself completely certain. He’s still in control of our futures. As we submit to him, he leads us according to his will.
We can rest in the security that, though our futures are uncertain, we serve a God who knows all things and is himself completely certain.
We have a decision, in this situation and every future one: will we trust God?
4. You have a greater life purpose.
Is graduation important? Yes. Are future plans important? Absolutely.
But there’s something infinitely more important than your graduation, your plans, your goals and dreams, and this current moment. And that’s your life purpose.
The world says our life’s purpose is the sum of our accomplishments and ideals. College, career, and success embody who we are. External accomplishments and internal satisfaction are our goals—or so culture tells us.
Christians have a life purpose that goes beyond the job they have or the degree they hold. That purpose is to glorify God in all we do. As I say in my book, Love Riot:
For centuries, scholars and philosophers have debated and pondered the question, “What is the purpose of life?” The answer is already spelled out in Scripture. The purpose of life is to live for God, know him, love him, and share his love with others. In other words, to live is an opportunity: Christ is the opportunity. To die is gain: Christ is the gain. So whether we live or die, we revolve around Christ. He is the meaning of life.
Whether we celebrate graduation as we’ve always dreamed or don’t have a ceremony at all, Christ is still the meaning of life. Whether we land the career we’ve always wanted or work faithfully at a dull job, Christ is still the meaning of life. Whether our future goes according to plan or everything crashes around us, Christ is still the meaning of life.
Class of 2020, when moments of disappointment rise up—and life is filled with discouragement—remember who is the meaning of your life.
You have a greater life purpose. How you live is more important than how you graduate.