Words for the Graduate

Imagine this. Your cellphone rings. It’s the President of your alma mater. She doesn’t waste any time with small talk. She clears her throat and tells you the reason for her call: Will you come to the aid of your University and be this year’s Graduation speaker? The originally scheduled big-name alum had to cancel at the last minute due to a family emergency. And she’s asking you to step in. Minor detail: Graduation is this coming weekend!

At this point you’d prefer that she was calling to ask you to make a major contribution to the building campaign. No such luck! All you have to do is to create and deliver a pithy, meaningful message to 5,000 graduates and their families who will be in attendance. In less than one week.

Reluctantly, you say “yes.” And as soon as you hang up, you are struck with panic and wonder “what the heck have I done?”

How do you cull down all that you have learned over the last 30 years and create a meaningful talk? You don’t want it to be one more “blah, blah, blah” address to a disinterested audience.

What will you say? What have you learned? What wisdom and encouragement can you share? What do you wish you had known?

You might not be ever put in this spot, but sooner or later, someone you love will be ready to graduate. Maybe even this coming weekend! Yes, it will be a time of celebration, but for the graduate, it’s also a time of great uncertainty and often, of great fear. It’s a time when self-doubt bubbles up despite this milestone of achievement in their life.

And YOU have a priceless gift you can give your graduate: your words, expressing wisdom and affirmation! If ever there was a perfect time to write a meaningful letter to someone you love, it’s at graduation. No matter how busy you are, and how tempting it looks to just buy a Hallmark card, please make the time to share your own words to the graduate. They are words that will likely be read and re-read in the years to come.

What should you put in a letter to the graduate? Consider three simple paragraphs:
1. Express your love for the graduate.Tell them what they mean to you and express the impact they’ve made on your life.
2. Affirm the qualities about the graduate that you think are so special.Tell the graduate WHY you believe those qualities will serve them well in life.
3. Share a few words of wisdomof what you have learned over the years. Tell the graduate a few things you wish you had known when you were launching. You have every bit as much wisdom (probably more) than most graduation speakers. Please share some of your nuggets of gold with the graduate that you love.

You might close your letter with a verse of Scripture that is meaningful to you or a quote that has been an anchor for your life.

Most importantly, just do it! Don’t allow the demons of procrastination or perfectionism stop you. This is one of the most loving and thoughtful presents you can provide. And please give with open hands, not expecting a response to your letter. You might not know for years to come what your words mean to the graduate, or how many times your letter will be read and reread. The loving words in your letter might even mean more as the graduate experiences the challenges brought with new seasons of life.


Want to learn more? Check out this great article that was just published about Leave Nothing Unsaid by Family Life. It includes more details about ways to write a meaningful letter to a graduate.