christian apologetics theology culture graduation

6 Things I Hope My Graduating Students Know

As a high school teacher, I have seen thirteen classes of seniors graduate. It is a great joy in my life to see them grow and move on to bigger and better things. I have kept in touch with many and have become close friends with several. I thank God for the memories I have collected over the years.

Every year, around graduation time, I become reflective. I know what I have taught them, but what have they learned? I know what I gave them, but what are they taking away? I see how they have grown, but are they where they need to be?

After all I have said to them, have I said everything that needed saying?

My answers to those questions are more satisfactory in some years than others. Yet, there are things that I hope every student takes away every year. In all the things they have learned, I hope they know these.

1. If you learn how to learn, you can learn anything you want.

We as teachers are often berated with the classic, “When are we going to use this in life?” As if these people—these Snapchatting, TikTokking, marathon-gaming, binge-watching, day-sleeping people—are concerned with wasting their time with trifles like math, science, and history. Nevertheless, when presented this question, I often bite.

One of the greatest lessons a student can learn is that, as Douglas Wilson puts it:

“The brain is not a shoebox that ‘gets full,’ but rather a muscle that expands its capacity with increased use. The more you know, the more you can know.[1] (emphasis mine)

Your schooling was as much about your ability to gather and process information as it was about the information you gathered and processed. Therefore, continuing your education, be it in the classroom or on the job, ought not simply to be about mastering a subject. It ought to be about mastering mastery. If your teachers did their job, they did not simply teach what to think but how to think. They not only taught you what to remember, they taught you the best ways to do so.

Solomon said that “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7) In a world in which we are drowning in information and starved for wisdom, this verse is a gem. Wisdom is both a means and an end. It is both what you should pursue and how you should pursue.

I hope you know your education does not end with graduation. In many ways it has only begun.

2. Friendship is a much deeper category than most people realize.

The term friend seems to mean less every day. Meanwhile, actually having a friend, a flesh-and-blood, ups-and-downs, thick-and-thin friend seems to mean more. So, as you move on from high school, keep old friends, make new friends, and be a good friend.

You need old friends to keep you grounded. They knew you before college, so they will appreciate more than just about anyone the improvements you make in the years to come. They will remind you where you came from, and you can return the favor.

You need new friends to keep you growing. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17) New friends mean new experiences, perspectives, and challenges. You need friends that are farther along than you are as well as friends that are a bit behind. That way, everybody keeps moving forward.

You need to be a good friend. “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly.” (Proverbs 18:24) Be the friend you need and you will have the friends you need. This is the servitude of friendship. Friends do not just make you happy; they make you better. Again, return the favor.

Be the friend you need and you will have the friends you need.

Friendship is more than digital connections, shared interests, or geographic proximities. It is more than a number to accumulate or a network to maintain. Friendship is relationship.

I hope you know that friendship ought to reflect Jesus, who through his death and by our obedience has declared us his friends. (John 15:13-15)

3. Habits form you, so form your habits.

Historian Will Durant once wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”[2] For us Christians, excellence is Christ-likeness. So, you do the math. If we are going to be Christ-like, we have to form Christ-like habits.

Peter tells us that “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:” (2 Peter 1:3) In other words, God in his grace has given us everything we need in order to be everything he has called us to be. We become godly by knowing God.

Therefore, we exercise ourselves in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7), and as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12), God works in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

Our habits determine the type of person we become in such a profound way. So, what type of person will you become? The answer lies in the type of habits you form.

One thing is for sure: you don’t become that person by sliding through life like water, flowing down the path of least resistance. You become that person by working daily to become that person. “Little strokes fell great oaks,” Benjamin Franklin tells us.

I hope you know that godliness is not something we achieve in a single day. It is what we fight for every single day.

4. Church is more important now than ever.

In all your years filling church pews, you no doubt heard countless mentions of Hebrews 10:25. No pastor worth his salt will let that verse go unused. After all, it is the go-to passage for why we go to church.

However, I am confident that you will find the last phrase of the verse increasingly meaningful.

“…and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

It is a common notion that church is great for the kids’ programs and youth activities. But, then many of those young people raised in church go missing. If they come back (and that’s a big if), they do so because now they have kids of their own to be placed in the same programs and to go on the same activities. What happened in those missing years?

Your church has been an extended family to you. They have loved and supported your parents. They have loved and supported you. Your family loved and supported them. They are your faith family, and you are theirs. As you come into full adulthood, you are going to need that same support. You need it now more than ever. You are going to need that family, especially if you move away from yours.

You are going to need that instruction, that exhortation, that connection. You are going to need to serve and be served. Now more than ever, you are going to need that preaching, teaching, and worship.

This is no time for venturing out. It is time for plugging in. Wherever you go, go to church. As a Christian, you do not simply go to church; you are the church. So, be the church.

I hope you know that being the church means going to church.

5. Your heart is often the worst source of direction.

“Listen to your heart,” they say. “Follow your heart, and everything will be fine,” they say. Our culture, with its gospel of expressive individualism, and even some Christians, with their well-meaning intentions, try to convince you of the reliability of your heart. Two school transfers and three major changes later, you are left wondering what direction to go next.

Here’s the thing…

The problem with following your heart is that your heart is the problem.

That infamous verse buried in Jeremiah tells us that your heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) I might add, much less who can know because of it?

Then Jesus informs us further. If we trust our heart we are trusting something out of which “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” (Matthew 15:19)

The problem with following your heart is that your heart is the problem.

The reality is, our hearts do not tell us what we ought to do; they tell us what we want to do. More often than not, what we want is not what we ought. So, what is the solution?

If you were brought up in church, you were probably pretty young when your Sunday school teacher taught you Proverbs 3:5-6. You were perhaps too enamored with the candy you earned for memorizing to appreciate the eternal truth in those verses. So, let’s review.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Don’t trust your heart. Make your heart trust the Lord.

I hope you know that the only thing worth following is God’s Word as the Spirit of truth guides you into all truth. (John 16:13)

6. What you do with your life is not half as important as how you glorify God and love people with it.

“A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15)

This must be one of the most underappreciated quotes from Jesus. It completely deconstructs the vicious “live to work, work to live” cycle. Your life is more than a contest to see how many toys you can buy and how much clout you can accumulate. You were made for more; you were saved for more.

Whatever you do for a living, as a Christian you have a higher purpose. You have an obligation to your Creator to create in such a way that points his creatures to him. So, be creative and create things!

You have an obligation to your Savior to serve in such a way so as to point the people he served to him. So, be a servant and serve people!

You have an obligation to your Comforter to comfort in such a way so as to point the discomforted to him. So, be a comforter and comfort people!

The tragedy of your life will not be that you come to the end of it with your hands filled with things you cannot take with you. The tragedy will be that you come to the end of life with your hands empty of things you should have done for God.

I hope you know that in all your academic pursuits and all your career choices, you should “do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

[1] Douglas Wilson, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Moscow: Canon Press, 2011), Kindle edition.

[2] Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961), p. 98.

Thanks for reading!

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2 responses to “6 Things I Hope My Graduating Students Know”

  1. This is excellent! I had a high school teacher who gave USA little year-end presentation as we left High school and one of the things I remember distinctly was him saying, “make every day better than the one before it.” In other words, don’t dwell on the old “glory days”—move forward. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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