For many of our youngsters this graduation season, masks and sanitizer are replacing caps and gowns; e-certificates will arrive online instead of sheepskin diplomas. This cohort of youth make up the “coronials,” who are stepping forth into a future that seems even more uncertain than in other years.
How to walk with them as they pass this unique milestone? Here are some suggestions, with prayers to offer on behalf of our children, nieces and nephews, students or others who are graduating from high school or college.
1. Honor their work, not their honors. Without the trappings of prom, commencement, and senior hoopla, some kids will feel deprived. Some were preparing for final performances, tournaments, recitals, capstone projects, or internships that have evaporated. Maybe there will be a belated official celebration rather than one in May, but it probably won’t feel like what was once anticipated.
They may be questioning the relevance of their achievements to this new landscape. Commend them on the discipline and skills they developed, which in God’s timing will benefit them beyond the short-term goal they were focused on. Studies have shown that praise is more encouraging when it is accompanied by a touch, and when it is specific—so (if you are in their household), give them a pat on the back for the laborious research they did on their term paper, or how they didn’t give up on basketball in sophomore year. That will be more effective than generalities like, “You always do whatever you set your mind to,” or “You’re so smart; you’ll be fine.”
Of course, a special home-centered celebration may be more important than in other years. Solicit e-congratulations from relatives, your pastor, even your mayor and Congress member. Organize a drive-by parade of friends and relatives, like my next-door neighbor did. Or how about decorating the family car with congratulatory washable graffiti, or making a scrapbook of school memorabilia? Maybe planting a tree in honor of the graduate would be meaningful for him or her.
Lord of all times and seasons, please establish the works of these youngsters’ hands. Use this unexpected time to bring forth more creativity and resilience in their character. Holy Spirit, you so often bring joy and unity: help me to honor our graduates in memorable ways.
2. Model confidence in Christ. The woman of God smiles at the future (Prov. 31:25), not because we expect an easy road, but because we know a sovereign God is with us. Filling your home with blaming voices, angry media, and hysterical, dire predictions will not contribute to the steadiness you want to impart. A college counselor and godly friend advises me that even if the student’s prospects are very bright, focus him or her on the next concrete step, not a stunning vista of opportunity or need that may overwhelm or pressure them.
Mighty God, help me to glorify you and be a witness of faith to the young people in my sphere. As the book of Hebrews says, “We do not yet see everything in subjection to Him, but we see Jesus.” First focus me on you, and then give me a trusting, compassionate steadiness that I can impart to others. You have said that your people “shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity” (Isaiah 65:23-24). I trust you with today’s challenges, with the future, and with my loved ones.
3. Help them find the blessing in the trial. “Coronials” have had to refrain from things that young people love. They couldn’t gather in crowds, hang out in restaurants, visit Grandma to show off their award, or even shake hands with their principal while being handed a diploma.
Yet sometimes pleasing God is about not doing rather than doing. I once had the privilege of speaking to a gathering of high school students from the Middle East who were in language classes. I said, “You’re learning English—that’s good; English is the language of freedom! But because it is, there is one very important word you must learn: ‘No.’ People who don’t say ‘No” to all the media, temptations, and excesses in the English-speaking world become horrible people.” Our graduates have all to some degree had a vivid lesson in saying no before heading off to their next adventure.
This age group will have experienced apartness from peers in a way that will set them apart from other age groups. Biographers note that long periods of isolation in childhood have contributed to the greatness of figures such as Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ringo Starr, Robert Louis Stevenson, Fred Rogers, and Nikola Tesla. And unlike these leaders, our youth will have experienced social distancing worldwide; they’re “doing isolation together.” Independence from peer pressure and groupthink may be emerging as kids see the limits of satisfaction that media can bring and start to appreciate the embodied presence of others. It will be a defining moment for them. Encourage them to embrace this new identity forged in hardship.
Loving Father, our young people are experiencing the centrifugal force of our times in a way we never imagined, but you are not taken by surprise. Help our beloved graduates to find the benefits you are sovereignly working in them and in society. Bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in them. For those who are not devoted to you, may they humbly turn to you for wisdom, love, and truth.
About the Author:
Leah Farish is active in women’s ministry in Oklahoma, and in the Middle East and North Africa. She is a lawyer who would rather do stand-up comedy. Her husband and kids would prefer that she do that as well.