Dear Grads of 2020,

This year, all of those once-in-a-lifetime moments didn’t happen for you.

You missed the senior awards day. Your high school prom was cancelled. And so was your senior class trip. You didn’t have all the pomp and celebration most graduates have, but you graduated, just the same.

Congratulations.

While the virus may have ruined your graduation festivities, don’t let this disappointment keep you down. You’ve got a great future ahead. It’s time to move on.

If you choose to go on to college, I pray you’ll make the most of every opportunity you have. Grow. Stay positive. Learn all that you can.

When my son Bryant was in college, he worked as a film intern in Montana one summer for class credit. It was really hard, around-the-clock work, but I’m glad he chose to do it. Now, he’s a film producer.

You will have many opportunities to learn and grow, too.

But, I’m sure you will also have difficulties.

Bryant (and my other children) did, too.

And as I watched my kids face new challenges and struggle with disappointments in college, I recorded some of the important things they learned in my journal. I’d like to share these things with you now, to encourage you to make the most of every opportunity you have.

12 things graduates need to know:

1. You need God. There is an empty space in your heart that only He can fill. Don’t try to fill it with activities. Substances. Achievements. Significant others. Make time for the Lord. Read His word. Pray. Worship. Feed your soul every day. (My book, Seeking a Familiar Face, can help you)

2. Disappointment can make you stronger. In a way, your disappointing senior year sets your class apart. Now you have a unique story to tell. This setback can help you appreciate your blessings more. It can help you seize opportunities more readily and prepare you to face the future. Even though it hurts, this disappointment can teach you a lot. So don’t just go through it, decide to grow through it.

3. Don’t live by default—discover who you truly are. These are foundational years; don’t live them by default, merely reacting to what’s going on around you. Define who you are, what you believe and who you want to become. Be specific. Write your life statement down in a journal and date it. Pray over it and try to live by it.

4. Don’t aim for perfection, aim for progress. You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself and move on. If you fall, get up again. Accept God’s forgiveness, knowing He still loves you, mistakes and all (Rom. 8:34-38). Surround yourself with like-minded people who won’t drag you into making further mistakes.

5. Be grateful on purpose. If you thank God for something, then you will enjoy it a lot more. Here’s why: gratitude produces joy. Happy people are grateful people. But gratitude isn’t natural—it’s a learned behavior that must be cultivated. The Bible says: “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18) Record a few things you’re grateful for in a journal each day–it will lift you up.

6. Look for a few true friends instead of striving for mass popularity. Be friendly to everyone, but be sure to reach out to people who have similar beliefs, dreams and goals. Friends affect you greatly, so choose wisely (Proverbs 22:24-25). If someone doesn’t respond to your friendship, accept it and move on to someone else.

7. Become the kind of friend you need to have. Instead of trying to get your friends to meet your needs, try to meet theirs. Be thoughtful. Trustworthy. Quick to forgive. Accept and enjoy your friends just as they are, not as you wish they would be. (For more tips on friendship, click here)

8. Be yourself, but also be open to growth and change. Ask yourself, What’s it like to be around me? Am I annoying? Self-centered? Rude? If so, then change it. Be painfully honest with yourself. Ask the Lord to show you what you need to change and work to change it. Let God help you become a better you.

9. Life is a series of stages—don’t rush it. Even though you may want circumstances to change, be patient—perhaps you’re not ready for change, yet. God uses the different stages of life to strengthen you, shape you and grow you. As you wait for Him to work, try to find the blessings in each stage. Paul once wrote:

“God began a good work in you and he will carry it on until it is completed.” (Phil. 1:6)

10. Protect yourself. Have the courage to walk away from a bad relationship. Consider the long-term effect of your behavior. Being mature is being able to choose what you want in the future, over what you want right now. It’s time to mature. Don’t wait until you have made a lot of mistakes. Protect your body. Protect you heart. No one else will.

11. Grasp every opportunity you can. Become a zealous learner. Read. Try new things. Take a few risks. Once I had the chance to study abroad, but I was too scared to go. I let fear rob me of a rich opportunity to learn. What a shame. I didn’t want my kids to make the same mistake, so I encouraged them to travel (the pic below is my son Will in Israel). If you get the chance to travel or study abroad, be sure to take it!

12. You can do it! Believe in God. Believe in yourself. Disbelief only drags you down. I know. For years, I lacked the self-confidence to go after my dreams. Finally, I learned that pursuing your dreams requires faith. That was my problem—a weak faith. I had to believe in God’s power, first. You and I can do great things, not because we’re great, but because we have a great God. Draw closer to the Lord first, and then, swing for the fence!

Do you have additional wisdom to share? If so, please add it to the comment section below.

Congratulations class of 2020!

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