As summer approaches, it is only natural that congregations will want to honor students who will be graduating or otherwise completing a phase of their educational lives. Below is a list of important considerations to assist in honoring and caring for our graduates of every age in a holistic manner.
- Coach your congregations in viewing this time of year as a time of transition, not just one of celebration. While graduating means exciting new things for many, there will be those for whom this process is a struggle. Whether it's a high schooler who cannot afford to attend college, a kindergartner who doesn't feel quite ready for school with the "big kids," or a PhD grad with uncertain job prospects, this time of endings and beginnings can be a tumultuous one.
Though it is natural to want to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, be sure to likewise mourn with those who are mourning, and lean into the church's gifts for holding space for ambiguity. Those of us working in the Christian education/faith formation realm can model this by ensuring that public discussions of graduations utilize language that names complexity, and we also have the opportunity to provide safe spaces for group and individual processing and prayer.
- Ensure physical needs are met. In many churches, it can be easy to assume that the folks in the pews have access to basic resources which must be shared with the "less fortunate." But living in a society where poverty is viewed as shameful, it is entirely possible that there are students/families in our midst who will not have access to those basic resources in the summer months but who don't feel comfortable asking for help. (Are there young students who were depending on school breakfast programs? College students/grads who will need housing assistance? Grad students who will no longer be receiving stipends?)
- Plan ahead for new spiritual needs. Consider how the spiritual needs of a middle schooler will be different than those of an elementary student, those of a college student living far away vs. one living at home, a summer camp kid vs. a youth who will be home alone all summer, etc. Discuss with your youth ways you might be able to assist (e.g. summer pen pals, weekly check-ins with youth who are away, connections with churches and campus ministries for college students, etc.). For students who will be transitioning to new places, consider assembling a "send-off team." It can be incredibly meaningful to students to have folks from their congregation arrive with coffee, donuts, and prayers as they prepare to move away, or a quick blessing in the driveway before they begin their first day in a new school. Lastly, make extra effort to keep students embarking on new journeys connected to the prayer life of the congregation—pray for them by name, periodically check in about prayer requests, provide remote ways to pray in community (e.g. zoom prayer groups, electronic prayer calendars).
- Give graduation gifts that are both meaningful and portable. Whether students are moving across the country or simply to a new grade, tangible reminders they can carry with them that God and their congregation love them can go a very long way toward helping them feel less alone. Water bottles, keychains, and pillowcases with treasured Bible verses or even just "GLYASDW" (God loves you and so do we), or another message of support can be incredibly useful for grads of all ages. Likewise, consider a small book of lectionary readings, prayers, or poetry they can carry with them, especially ones that connect them with the wider church. One resource that Sparkhouse offers that may prove meaningful to new grads is Joe Davis' We Rise Higher: Poems and Prayers for Graduates. Lastly, never underestimate the power of a physical Bible! Though we can access hundreds of different translations online with a single click, many students of all ages have told me how meaningful it was for them to have a Bible they could hold in their hands during anxious moments, especially one with a hand-written inscription from a fellow member of the congregation (and consider providing a phone number they can have handy should they want to chat or check-in!).