Graduation season is upon us and we have the privilege of watching students we loved and discipled step into a new season of life. If you are like me this is both a celebratory time and also one that pulls at your heart strings as you prepare to send off a group of students to whom you have grown incredibly close.
Throughout my time in student ministry I have long wrestled with how I can show my graduates how much they mean to me, how I can best prepare them for this next phase of life, and how I can honor them well. I don’t think I have perfected it, but I have found a few ways to truly make this time meaningful and celebratory for our graduates and I want to share that with you today.
1. Commission them.
In our current church we have been able to bring our seniors on stage in front of our whole church body and to commission them as we send them out as disciple-makers into their next stage of life. We incorporate a brochure highlighting each student, deliver a brief word of encouragement, and have our elders pray over them. This is such a great time to not only celebrate but also honor our seniors as we send them out.
For some youth leaders doing this in front of the entire church may not be possible, so consider doing this within your youth program. Bring up small group leaders and involve them. See if parents will come out. Make their time in small group special with snacks and decorations. These moments will stick with your students and highlight the necessity of the Great Commission.
2. Make each card and note personal.
This is something that I have grown to love over the past few years. I was never much of a card writer but I have become convinced of how powerful a handwritten note or card can be. Just think about the last time you got a handwritten letter in the mail and then the last time you got a bill. Did they feel the same? Did they evoke similar reactions and feelings? Probably not.
The reason the handwritten notes mean more is because it took time and effort, it shows the intentionality of the relationship, and it’s more intimate and personal. When you write a card or note for each of your seniors, you are telling them they are seen and loved. So share memories, prayers for them, encourage and challenge them, and let them know how much they mean to you. This will be something that they will long remember rather than a generic card with a signature.
3. Be intentional with small group times.
This is something that I try to be aware of during their entire senior year, but seeing as graduation season is already upon us, it can also be something that is utilized from this moment until they depart for college. Consider having members and leaders of your college ministry come and share at a small group time. This also allows for relationships to be built and groundwork to be laid for the next few years.
Another way to be intentional with small group time is by creating a time for them to go out and do something special together before they depart. They could go out for dinner, play mini golf, go hiking or camping, come over to your home for a barbecue, or visit with the senior pastor for a dessert social where they are encouraged and celebrated. These moments not only allow for your seniors to grow closer with their small group, but also elevate their last year in student ministry by making it special and meaningful.
4. Connect them with college ministries.
As you prepare for your seniors to graduate, one of the best things you can do is connect them with a ministry they will be a part of going forward. They may not always attend your church’s college ministry, but it is their home church and as such can be a place of refuge, encouragement, and community. So find ways to incorporate and intermingle current college students and leaders with your seniors. Set up times for them to join your small groups. Create social opportunities to connect both groups. Challenge your senior small group leaders to intentionally encourage the students to participate in the college ministry. In fact, I would also encourage the leaders to go with them a few times as well to help with the transition into a new ministry. Lastly, I would encourage you to talk encouragingly about the college ministry and to challenge your students to attend it regularly and make it their new home. How you talk about the ministry and hold it up will encourage your students to become a part of it.
5. Attend important moments.
Senior year is full of special moments for your students. There are ceremonies with honors and awards, recognition for students’ engagement in civil programs and various clubs, senior nights for sports and activities, and graduation ceremonies and parties. If you are able to, especially when you are invited, I would highly encourage you to attend. You may not get much, if any, face-to-face time with your student(s) depending on the context and activity, but simply knowing or seeing you are there will radically impact and encourage your graduates.
Your presence shows them that you believe in them and care about them. It highlights the relationship and shows them how much you are invested. Let me also encourage you to involve their small group leaders in as many moments as possible. This helps your students to see the importance of multiple adults and spiritual mentors in their life, and it honors the work that your leaders have put into their students.