I’ve spent the last 4 years as a catechist to high school seniors. Before that I spent 4 years with confirmation classes and middle school students, but focusing on sending students out to college and beyond high school has been some of my most fruitful experiences.
I would like to share a personal letter to my students as they finish their high school career and walk the stage at graduation. While it is written to my students, it is an open letter for a reason.
Dear Graduating Class,
In your graduation commencement speeches they will encourage you to go out there and achieve your dreams. They will also rightfully congratulate you on your success so far. They can do their job, but I want to hit a few points that they probably won’t tell you.
1. It is possible to have fun and still live our your faith.
College is about finding out what you want to do with your life and meeting new people. You’re going to have a lot of opportunity to celebrate life and discover incredible new things. This is what everyone remembers about college, even more than your studies. God doesn’t want you to live a boring and secluded life, but sin, even in the name of fun, will never benefit you. The empty promises from temptation will always leave you unsatisfied, but fun without regret will leave you good memories and happiness.
2. Surround yourself with the right people.
You need friends, so always be open to meeting new people. It will be critical to your faith life to have strong support. Holiness inspires holiness, and as difficult as it is sometimes, we need others to keep us accountable. Find a Catholic student center or parish and don’t be shy. At the same time, never be afraid to talk to anyone different. As the saying goes, “Your life may be the only Bible some people read.”
3. Remember that you’re not in control.
All the things that seemed so important the last four years will slowly change. There will be times when problems come up that seem too difficult to handle or your life plans might fall apart. There will also be times when everything goes according to plan. Even if life seems unfair or like your ideas are the best, God is still God. He has the best plans for our lives, but it will take a lifetime of listening and conversation with Him to be able to unmistakably recognize the tiny whisper of His call among the noise.
4. Appreciate your parents and family.
I know it’s not always easy to understand your parents or respect their decisions, but remember they won’t always be around. As much as you want to spend most of your last days before college with your friends, don’t forget to spend time with them. Make an effort to eat at home and have fun as a family. Each day that passes is another day you won’t get back. As tempting as it is to try and live in your expectation of the future, be intentional to live in the present with the people around you right now.
5. The odds are against you.
Statistics tell us that a large part of Catholics do not practice their faith by the time they leave college. There will be many professors with many letters and titles around their name that will try to tell you of the many ways in which our faith is old fashioned and wrong, but don’t let them intimidate or convince you otherwise – Jesus Christ is Lord.
Be aware of this challenge and keep yourself in check. Don’t let yourself get lazy – cling to the sacraments and the mass. Your graduation doesn’t mean that you’ve learned all about the faith, this is a life long journey and there is always room for more growth.
This is how you can make the biggest difference in the world – strive to be a saint.
The past four years has been a wonderful ride. I’ve seen many of you go through the good, the bad, the awkward, the silly, and even the dark times in life. It has been a blessing to see you grow from freshmen year to now. There is so much talk about how this generation is lost, but you all show me how much hope there is in the Church.
May God bless you always.
I encourage others to leave any tips or encouragement for high school graduates in the comments.