Twelve tips for the graduates

A bunch of kids have been or will be walking across stages, shaking a hand, and grasping a sheepskin these days. From wide-eyed kindergarteners to bleary-eyed PhD's, there'll be some tears, some sighs, and some amazement - at what's passed...and what's ahead. Lots of picture and hugs.  Lots of parties and wishes.  These are happy times.  Times to celebrate and reflect and launch from. And some scary times, too -- there's a lot of unknown out there.
 I wish I could gather them all together for a chat.  I'd like to applaud them and brag on them - from the Magna Cum Laude's to the "Aw Lawdy's" - congrats.  These are indeed momentous accomplishments and the world should absolutely stop for a moment and offer a pat on the back.  No matter the rank at the end, just crossing that finish line is noteworthy.  Way to go, way to go.

If I really could have all their attention for a few minutes, I'd sure 'nuf brag on them and tell them I'm proud and clap and cheer awfully loud.  But I think I'd like to add some thoughts, if I could.  Things I think they need to embrace as they head to the next rung on their ladder.  Some things I'm very thankful somebody made sure I knew....and some things I wish I'd known.

Here goes:

1.  You owe a big fat "thank you" to an awful lot of people.  I don't care if you paid for your own way since 1st grade, you didn't get to this point without some help.  Tell those people you appreciate it.  Probably starting with your parents but you can make your own list.  And, for the record, you oughta write it in a letter.  Folks tend to save those things and read them again and again and again.

2.  Prior performance is not always - or doesn't have to be - a predictor of future achievement.  Don't let previous mistakes label you - in anyone's mind, especially your own.  Just last week, I spoke with a successful physician in his 6th decade who graduated 3rd out of a class of 145 from medical school and summa cum laude before that....and he told me he made ALL D'S in high school!!!!  If you blew it your past (in any way - not just academically), that does not have to define you. 

3.  Prior performance is not always a predictor of future achievement.  Yes, I know that was #2 but I'm making another point with the same thought.  Just because you have seen some successes, don't rest on those laurels.  You gotta earn your way again.  You've probably established some good habits and developed some helpful skills by attaining these past successes - kudos. Those will come in handy as you move forward.  Just don't think you've paid your dues.  You have to pay them over and over and over again.

4.  Remember who you are....and WHOSE you are.  Maybe you want to leave behind all the heartache you've known.  You may want to "recreate" yourself into someone you consider more desirable.  Be careful to remember who you belong to and who you are.  God created just one of you - if you're not "you" then the world will miss out on what you can contribute.  I know there'll be a bunch of new folks you want to impress but remember whose you are and work hardest at impressing Him.  He's the only One that matters.

5.  You will be the sum total of your behavior.  One time,  I heard my pastor define character  as "what you act like when nobody knows who you are".  Most likely your next step is taking you into a realm where you will experience unknowns of people, places, and opportunities.   Remember, you will be the sum total of your behavior.  Think of it this way -
A thought reaps an action
An action reaps a habit
A habit reaps a character
Character reaps a destiny
Plenty of folks have paid for a lifetime for a few moments of wrong decision.  Don't be one of those.

6.  Don't be afraid of "new and different".  Meet new people.  Try new activities.  Develop new skills.  Don't wrap yourself in "sameness".  You're in a new stage because God wants to grow you in new ways.  Let Him.

7. It's not about you.  Chances are, you're coming off several weeks and months of pretty near narcissism.  The last year of high school, college, etc can do that to you.  From the pictures and the proms and the presents - it's all been about YOU.  That's ok but now it's time to get over it.  Your next step (be it college or graduate school or a job) will be better if you don't make it about yourself.  Instead think: What can you do for your country?  For your company?  For Eternity?  Don't get so wrapped up in your new dorm room décor or your new tax bracket that you forget you were put here for a purpose. And that purpose isn't to please matter how good that's felt for all these months!

8.  Following along that thought, invest in someone else.  Continually.  The most rewarding thing I did in all of college was to disciple some younger gals.  A whole bunch of those women are still my good friends some decades later.  I don't know what they got out of it, but it sure shaped me.  I've continued that practice to this day.  Make your next steps count - invest in somebody else.

9.  Tithe.  What??? Why would I put that in here??  Because you're going to make some money and establishing this habit early is critical to your success forever.  I won't promise that it'll make you rich but I will promise that it'll make you prosperous.  And that you'll never lack anything you need.  Tithe.  Now.  Even if you are "just" a waitress or a lifeguard or a babysitter.  TITHE.

10.  Find a good church and connect to it immediately.  Don't try to find a perfect one - there will not be one and you'll waste your life looking for it.  Don't try to find one just like the one you came from - God plans to do a new work in you and He will use a new church.  Don't wait til next month or next semester or next year when you've had a chance to get settled.  Connect immediately.  I cannot overstate how important this is.  And connect.  Don't just attend.  Get in there and serve and contribute and make a difference.

11.  Make the right kind of friends.  Someone once told me "Friends determine the direction and the quality of your life".  Amen.  Amen. Amen.  Don't hang out with people that don't share your values.  Yes, I know all about reaching the lost - I'm talking about the folks you "do life" with.  Make yours the right ones.  If you have a question about whether or not someone is the right kind, they probably aren't.  But in case you really want to know, ask your Dad what he thinks.

12.  Call your folks.  I know new steps are about independence and I am totally against helicopter parents and keeping the umbilical cord intact.  But that doesn't mean cutting contact.  Call them.  Ask them for advice (and, for the record - if they're paying your bills, you better follow that advice!!) Treat them with kindness and respect.  They love you and they have given their lives to get you to this point.  They just want to know they still matter to you.  Call them.

Congratulations, graduates.  I'm typing through tears and your names come to my mind.  I'm proud of you.  Really proud.  Way to go.  I hope you tear it up at the next level, too!

And, as you climb that ladder of success, be sure you've leaned it against the right wall.