The Minority Report: Advice for Graduates
Every Tuesday in The Minority Report, Drew Dixon takes a look at trends in youth culture and offers some biblical wisdom for navigating them.
Graduation is upon us. A time of reflecting on the past and dreaming of the future. It is also a time to give people lots of unsolicited advice because most of us have been there before and so we think we know a thing or two about how to conduct oneself in the post-high school world. So, graduating senior, whether you like it or not, get ready for a slew of unsolicited advice from friends, family members, people you vaguely know, and people you wish you didn’t.
Let me sum up most of the advice you will be getting. Your non-Christian friends and family members will encourage you to enjoy your new found freedom. Your Christian friends will tell you to be wary of your new found freedom. Some will tell you to just have a good time. Others will tell you to work really hard in college because you future is on the line. Some will tell you that you will meet lot of attractive singles and that you should enjoy them while you can. Others will warn you against making decisions you will regret with the many attractive singles you will meet. Some people will tell you to choose a major wisely and stick with it, others will tell you not to be afraid to change your major–just make sure you do what you love. Christian friends will encourage you to get involved with a campus ministry organization, try to make good good Christian friends, and develop daily spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer.
Some of this is good advice, some of it is not. Most of it is vague enough to be neither good or bad. I would certainly encourage graduates to consider the more spiritually minded advice they are being given, such as to cultivate spiritual disciplines–but those things seem really obvious to me. Consequently, I want to offer you, graduate of 2012, some advice that perhaps most people will not offer. So here are five pieces of unconventional wisdom for graduating seniors:
1. Join a local church and serve. Perhaps this is obvious but I fear that the local church is somewhat out of favor with many young people. I think campus ministries and more insular college ministries are often preferred to full participation in the body of Christ. When we only surround ourselves with people in our same stage of life, we are a far more likely to grow complacent. The diversity we discover in the world outside of college will be far more disarming if we never challenge ourselves to engage people besides other college students. I could go on and on about how to find a good church–what kind of preaching to look for and how to be blessing to that church etc., but for the sake of brevity, I would just say that a solid local church can care for your soul in ways that no other organization can. Find a good local church–it will bless you tremendously and challenge you to be a blessing to others.
2. Be frugal. Because you are young and no longer under the supervision of your parents, when you go to college there will be lots of people that want your money. If we have learned anything from Occupy Wall Street, hopefully it is this: Americans are not wise stewards of their money. People will offer you incredible student loans at seemingly good rates, credit card companies will all but throw their cards at you. In short, you will have no shortage of money and few people around you encouraging you to use it wisely. This should be obvious, but in case you have never heard of Dave Ramsey, let me speak clearly–unless that money is a scholarship or a grant, you are going to have to pay it back and then some. The “and then some” is interest and it is not your friend no matter how low it may seem. OWS also serves as a helpful reminder that there are plenty of unemployed college graduates–a college degree is not a guarantee for a decent job that will allow you to pay back your student loans. Don’t be afraid to work during college, it may take you longer to finish but you will be glad that you aren’t paying back all those loans and credit cards for the rest of your life. Despite what you hear, all those loans and credit cards really are optional.
3. Take advantage of college community. When you get out into the real world, you will discover that people aren’t all that interested in hanging out with you or doing the things you like to do. In college, perhaps because everyone is new and trying to make friends, there are many opportunities to do things with other people that you enjoy doing. Join a intramural sports league, a conservation society, or a gaming club. Do something you enjoy with other people who enjoy it too. College students are at a rare stage in life when people are hungry for community rather than walling themselves off from it. Take advantage of that–as a Christian this is a tremendous opportunity to get to know people in natural ways and point them toward Christ.
4. Take care of yourself. Mom and Dad are no longer there to cook for you and you probably aren’t playing football or basketball or running cross country anymore, at least not like you used to. Watch what you eat. Consider learning to cook real meals with real food (something that doesn’t come in a box). Doing so might also impress one of those attractive singles I mentioned earlier. Find some form of exercising that is practical and that you enjoy. Most colleges have gyms that are free–you won’t get that deal anywhere else, use it while you can!
5. Your best days are yet to come. Someone has surely told you that your best days are over. They will say “I hope you enjoyed yourself in high school because those were the best days of your life” or some such nonsense. Such advice couldn’t be further from the truth for me and perhaps that means it is all a matter of perspective. I would never go back to high school. And I say that as someone whose high school years were positive (overall). Many of you will get married soon and have children–if you approach those opportunities carefully and thoughtfully you will find much more joy in them than any of your high school glories. Even if you don’t get married and have kids, if you can develop a vision for your future that goes beyond yourself, you will find that the years are getting better and better.