By Linda Gilden
I checked the camera one more time. I looked through the viewfinder to make sure I still had a straight line of site. As I reached into the pocket of my skirt to make sure I had a tissue, “Pomp and Circumstance” began to play and the people in the audience rose to their feet.
The processional of graduating students began. Camera flashes fired continually as parent’s faces erupted in smiles. Appearing relieved finally to be walking the aisle in caps and gowns, the graduates sported big grins.
The students took their chairs on stage and the audience sat once again. The first speaker began, “It has been such a pleasure to work with your children this year . . . in kindergarten.”
Kindergarten? Most people think caps and gowns are reserved for high school and college graduates. But many boys and girls are introduced to graduation in kindergarten.
Graduation at any level signifies accomplishment. A goal has been reached and a milestone in life has been checked off the list. The graduate’s life course has been redirected and it affects the entire family. Family dynamics change as the family member moves to another level of accomplishment. This life stage can be challenging, but it is also an opportunity for growth.
Graduating is like coming to the peaks in a range of mountains. If you were to climb them, you would always see peaks from where you came and peaks above you until you reached the top. Graduation milestones give us the opportunity to look back to see where we have been and ahead to see where we are going.
What are some of the changes and challenges that accompany the diploma?
Physical growth is a big part of a child’s development during his early years. So is mental growth, making every experience a learning opportunity.
Parents can encourage their children to learn. If parents demonstrate to their children the joy of learning about the world they live in, their children will learn to enjoy it as well.
Mark and Janice have four children. They loved being out of doors and taking hikes as a family. “Children, come over here,” Mark called.
“What is it, Dad?”
Mark then explained what the rocks, leaves, and soil can tell the family about the development of the earth. He was often able to refer to Bible verses that reinforced their findings.
As children get older, the lessons will change as well. Lessons we learn from observing the world around us change to lessons learned from life experiences.
At the end of middle school, Frank took his daughter Sarabeth to the bank. “It’s time for you to open a checking account,” Frank told her. “ I am going to deposit your first 50 dollars into it. Then every month I am going to help you balance your checkbook so we can see where your money is going. When you earn money, you can deposit it into your account and watch the balance grow.”
Sarabeth, now an adult, says, “Those financial lessons at the kitchen table were invaluable. If Daddy hadn’t taken time to do that, I don’t know how well I would be able to manage money today.”
Changes also occur socially upon graduation, especially from high school. Moving on to college requires making a new set of friends. This is a time in life when students can make good decisions, or mistakes that lead to difficult lessons.
Josh, a student with a couple of years of college behind him, says, “Be careful not to fall into the world’s view of how to have fun. If you are going to look up to somebody, find someone worth looking up to. Don’t just pick someone because he is older than you or because you want to fit into that crowd.”
Emotional changes often require big adjustments. For many years students have relied on their parents. Choices are often made after a time of family discussion. But once a student leaves for college, she must make decisions without help. If she has been guided along the way and taught to seek wisdom from God in making decisions, this next step of independence will be fairly painless.
If a student is unprepared to make these decisions, he could experience some tough times. But even failure and bad decisions are not lost if the student learns from them.
Spiritually, graduation opens the door for significant growth as students move from dependent living at home to independent living at the university. Many students rely on the strength of their Christian upbringing to guide them. Others may experiment with activities that could lead them down harmful paths. Still others find out during their early days of independence that they really can’t handle things alone, and meet God for the first time in their lives.
Melanie remembers some of her father’s godly advice. “My father, a minister, preached a graduation message one time that has stuck with me unlike many others. It was based primarily on Proverbs 4:7, which states, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (New King James Version).
Change usually brings challenges. Graduates often face challenges in areas like schedules, jobs, friends, finances, and responsibilities. Today’s graduates are faced with job shortages and a struggling economy. So what can today’s grads do to meet the challenges? A few graduates offer advice.
Grace says, “Stay positive. You have finished a great education and have lots of energy. Let that work to your advantage. Set your goals and work hard to achieve them.”
Jeff started his own business right out of college. “I haven’t looked back since! Working independently gives me daily freedom. Know where you want to go and do what it takes to get there.”
“Take advantage of every opportunity (the good ones, of course!) because today’s opportunity might not come around a second time,” says Caroline.
“Do your best to have no regrets and let God lead! Although that’s a hard statement to live by, it is so worth it! As I look back on high school, I am wondering why I was so stubborn about certain decisions! God’s there for you. Let him guide you!” Stephanie says.
”The greatest thing I learned after graduation was humility. My plans were not always God’s plans. Each time I tried to convince God that my plans were right, I failed. Each time I humbled myself and followed his lead, I succeeded more than I could have ever imagined possible. Philippians 4:13 (‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’) became real to me,” says Shannon.
Though a time of change and challenge, graduation opens the doors to greater learning and growth. If you have graduates in your family this year, take time to encourage them as they pass this milestone.
In a way, we graduate every day. We complete one day and move on to the next. The process of stepping from one place to the next, climbing from one mountain peak to another, will continue for the rest of our lives.
Linda Gilden is a freelance writer in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Changes, Choices, Challenges
Changes, challenges, and choices happen at most every stage in life. Make sure you’re praying for, talking about, and celebrating these milestones in your life, your spouse’s life, your friends’ lives, and the lives of your children—no matter how old or young they are.
Make a list of three to five key people who are integral to your life. List the changes, choices, and challenges each has recently faced or will face soon. Pray regularly about these things. Encourage the people on your list and help them bounce back from mistakes and celebrate successes.