In my possession, I have one picture from my High School Graduation Ceremony. If there are other pictures that were taken that day, my mom has boxed them away somewhere, and they are not readily seen, nor have they been seen in recent memory. This I regret.
Even worse, I have very little memory of that day, the moments surrounding it, or the moments leading up to it. I think the reason I remember so little of my High School Graduation Ceremony is because I was simply not mature enough to be fully aware of how monumental this moment was at the time. I’m not sure if I was just ready to leave High School and go off to play sports in college, if I was just trying to “cool” my way through it, or if I was simply oblivious to the enormous nature of the moment. This too, I regret.
I’m sure my parents were aware of the moment. Perhaps they assumed I was aware of it. Looking back, I wish someone would have made me more aware of the weight of this chapter of my life. There are hugs and handshakes that I missed, tears I should have shed, “goodbye’s” I never said, extraordinary moments I should have taken in, friendships I never sealed or maintained, and people I never thanked. I tore right through the page of this chapter of my life with little care. I wish I had taken the time to linger, soak up, and absorb the immense nature of this “once-in-a-lifetime” chapter of my life, before turning its page.
Now, as a parent, I sit on the verge of watching my oldest son Jadon and all his friends prepare for their own High School Graduation. I have made great effort to make sure Jadon does not bypass or run through this moment without effect or awareness. If I could sit down with any High School Senior who is preparing to graduate, I would share the following things:
Cap & Gown-You’re going to put on your cap and gown frequently during this time. Each time you do, feel the gown cascade over your shoulders, feel the grip of the cap pressing on your head and messing up your hair. It is not simply a piece of material. It is more than that. It’s a symbol of something much greater. It’s a symbol that you earned this, that you made it, that you have people in your life who love you and believe in you, and that you are not alone. It’s a symbol that you have an incredible future ahead of you and that your dreams can actually come true. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, take a look at yourself, and believe you have what it takes. Every time you put it on, give thanks to God, and believe for your greatest potential. When you take it off for the last time, take a moment and ponder…it’s not just the end, it’s a new beginning. Say one final prayer with it on, and thank God for His faithfulness to you.
Cards & Gifts-If you are blessed enough to get cards and gifts, make sure you take the time to write each person a thank you card. Don’t use a form letter. Hand-write it. Your hands will likely get tired. If they do, receive the weariness as a reminder that you are surrounded by people who care about you. For every single “i” that you dot and “t” that you cross, for every sealed envelope that you send, for every hand cramp, be reminded that someone cared enough to recognize you and pour into you. Pour yourself into every word you say, make it personal, make it mean something. Feel the “thank-you” card in your hand before you send it, and remind yourself that you are part of something bigger than you, a community of people who care about you.
Ceremonies & Parties-If you are blessed enough to have a church or family recognize you publicly through a ceremony, service, or a party, make sure you look every single person in attendance in the eye and thank them. You may not like all the attention, but for one single moment, let yourself be overwhelmed by the fact that you mean something to other people. Take a look around the room and realize that it’s not just a ritual, it’s about people taking the time to let you know you matter. Take that in…all of it, and be thankful. There are many lonely people in life who would give their right arm just to have a moment like yours, to draw a crowd again.
Your School Building-Take one last moment to go to your school building. Walk around, walk through the halls, smell the smells, drive through the parking lot, park in your old spot, step onto your old field or court, and breathe it all in. Let the walls, the hardwood, the stands, the chairs, all of them, let them all talk to you one more time. It’s been said that walls cannot talk, but that’s only because no one takes the time to listen. Make sure you listen one more time before you leave. Part of your story is forged here. It’s forever etched in the layers of these walls, this court, or this field. Walk, be quiet, listen, and give thanks. Let it talk to you one more time. Every time you go back after this, it will never be the same. You won’t own it the way you do right now. There may be a trophy or plaque with your name on it, but it will never be the same as it is right now. They may even remodel a room, a gym, add on, or even tear the whole place down. Take the time to listen one last time…and remember. Your name is etched here forever, and while it may be forgotten by others, let it never be forgotten by you.
Teachers, Coaches & School Officials-More important than the walls, are the relationships. Take the time to personally thank the teachers who taught you, the coaches who coached you, and the people who poured into you and gave a piece of their lives to you. I assure you, few of them are doing it for the pay. They do it for you and your future. Make sure you take the time to tell them it mattered. Many of them labor in what they do, and year by year, they wonder if they can keep doing it. They are tired and weary. Your thankfulness is worth more to them than any paycheck they’ll ever receive. They will be better for it and so will you. Here’s an even greater challenge. If there is a particular teacher or coach you didn’t like or you feel didn’t do the best job, work up the courage to go and thank them also. It will build your humility and prepare you for a lifetime of having to deal with people who won’t be your favorites, but still need your love. Life is full of them. It’s also highly likely, that even though they may not show it at the time, your effort is just the thing that will tear out one brick of their hard exterior that’s been built up through a life of wounds you know nothing about. You will be better for it, and so will they.
Your Parents & Family-More than that, take the time to thank your parents, siblings, and all other family members who invested in you. Even if your parents were dysfunctional and crummy parents, take the time to thank them. See the above paragraph about thanking the teachers who weren’t your favorite. The same applies, but even more. For many of your parents, they are not only grieving the loss of your childhood, but also the fact that you are moving into a new chapter of life. You’re not the little kid who used to crawl up into bed beside them or who runs into their arms anymore. The old toys from the past that brought such joy on Christmas Day are soon to be packed up. The memories will be boxed up, and while they will never stop being your parent, they feel more as if they’re part of your past, rather than your future. Remember how much they love you and gave up for you. They are much of the reason for the person you are today. They invested in you and gave everything for you, and likely always will. Don’t forsake them or forget them. Always call them, thank them, go back to check on them, tell them you love them, and give them the biggest hug possible. Keep them in your life. Though you may not think it now, you will always need them more than you know. Don’t wake up one day and say to yourself, “I wish I could just hear their voice one more time.” If you have them today, then keep them, and make the most of it. In addition, if your parents worked too much, were absentee parents, and took little time for you, be intentional to forgive them, even if they don’t deserve it. It’s the only way you’ll ever be free of the wounds that caused them to do the same things to you, even when they didn’t mean to do so.
Friendships-If you have broken relationships, mend them…now. It doesn’t matter how great the hurt may be. Years from now, the trivial things you may be holding a grudge for now, will not be worth it. Let go of the wound now. There will be plenty else in life that will try to wound you. Learn to deal with those things now, so that those unforgiven wounds don’t become the dysfunction that cripples you in life. Purpose to keep the friendships you have forged in this part of your life. Sadly, most of these friendships will fade with time. The people you shared such close moments with will likely one day become mere acquaintances or even strangers. But there will be a few that may last into adulthood, even a lifetime. If those friendships mean anything to you, purpose to keep them. To be a friend, you’ll have to be a friend. You may have to make the first contact, even when you feel like no one ever contacts you. That’s okay, do it anyway. Some of those friendships are worth the investment. I wish I had done the same.
The Day-When the day to march finally arrives, be sure to take in every moment. Let yourself feel every ounce of laughter, joy, anticipation, excitement, nervousness, and yes, if there are tears, let them flow…all of them. It’s not a sign of weakness or sadness. It’s a moment worthy of every emotion. Let yourself experience all of them. When “Pomp & Circumstance” begins to play, and you begin to march, be sure you take in every step. Look in front of you, look behind you, look at the room. This is a moment where life is lifted above the ordinary. This is a moment where the natural collides with the supernatural. This moment, this one, single, solitary moment of your life…this is a moment where the ordinary and the extraordinary intersect, and you are right in the middle of it. Make sure you notice it. It only comes once in a lifetime, with this group of people. It will never happen again. Don’t run through it. Look around the room. These people, the ones you grew up with, rode the bus with, played with, cried with, laughed with, shared life with, this is the last time you will ever be together like this. Sure, you may see some of them again, but some you will never see again. But whether you see them again or not, it will never be like this again…ever. Make sure you look around. Don’t just look to the front, look behind, beside, all around, in the stands, see it all. This group will never gather in this way again. Look up in the stands and give your parents the smile or the sign, make eye contact, and share the tear. It is one moment in time, and you are at its center. Take every picture, give every hug, give every last goodbye, shed every tear, and hold every moment you can before you leave. You will only have it once. Squeeze everything out of it that you can. Take it from a guy who didn’t and wished that he had.
Most Importantly-Somewhere in the middle of all this EPIC, you must take a moment to go to your knees and thank the God who makes all this possible. Regardless of your thoughts toward Him, what you may or may not know about Him, or what you think you know of Him, He has made you “fearfully and wonderfully” (Psalm 139:14), and this moment in which you are currently standing is one of the most fearful and wonderful moments you will ever have. It was designed for you. You are not here by accident. The world is at your footstep, Heaven is shining on you, and God is inviting you forward to achieve your potential. Thank Him, be humble, and as you do, hold out your hand, and let Him lead you into the next chapter. It only gets better.