Elements for a Meaningful Send off for Graduates

“I can’t wait to be done!” It’s a familiar phrase that we often hear our high school seniors exclaim as they find themselves battling what’s commonly known as “senioritis.” High school seniors find themselves trying to finish out the semester, knowing that in a matter of months they will be launched into freedom. It’s also the phrase that has youth leaders asking the question, “How will we best send them off?”

Graduation season is filled with over-the-top parties, inspiring speeches, creative gift giving, and elaborate walks down memory lane. Those elements alone can create a challenge for youth ministries to find meaningful ways to celebrate with students and their families. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, with a new set of restrictions, and the task at hand can feel overwhelming.

We can spend hours trying to find the perfect theme for our graduation message, search endlessly on Amazon for gifts our seniors will love, and stay up all hours of the night creating a flawless highlight video of all the youth group events they’ve participated in. While those elements can be important, we have to wonder if they are what our seniors will find most meaningful 5-10 years from now. As we plan and prepare for this graduation season, incorporating these three elements may provide a meaningful send off.

AN INVITATION TO THE CHURCH

Last year, as the pandemic hit our world, many of us had to adapt our plans for celebrating our graduates. In a matter of weeks, we lost the ability to have in-person services, including our traditional graduation service. We quickly made plans and invited the whole church for a drive by parade where we would stop at each graduate’s home and drop off gifts. We weren’t sure if anyone would show up that day but were completely surprised when 25 vehicles lined up in the rain and ventured on a 20-mile drive to visit 12 homes. With a police escort and a lot of honking and hollering, the church not only showed up for our grads, but the community was touched as well. As I watched one particular mom who doesn’t attend our church stand at her door and watch her child be celebrated, I was overwhelmed. When we invite the church at large to be a part of our celebration, we create a framework of support and love that is far more meaningful than we could have imagined.

A PRIORITY OF PRAYER

In the busyness of planning and trying to stay creative, prayer can take a back seat to much of what we do in youth ministry. When our graduating seniors leave, they are stepping into a world where they will often feel as though they are swimming upstream. Surrounding them with prayer before, during, and after graduation is a game changer. Simple ways of doing this include:

  • creating prayer cards the congregation can take home, with graduates’ pictures on them and specific ways to pray;
  • inviting graduates and their families up front in a service and praying over them;
  • making a summer calendar of prayer points specifically for graduates and inviting a team of people to commit to praying each day; or
  • scheduling weekly prayer texts to send out for the first year graduates are in college.

Making prayer a priority can be meaningful in helping graduates feel less alone.

WORDS OF AFFIRMATION AND BLESSING

Words are powerful when creating a meaningful experience. When we speak words that affirm who our students’ are in Christ, paint a picture of a bright future with Him, and express our commitment to journeying with them in the future, they are reminded of a deep truth. We remind them that life is not a series of random events but that God has a unique calling and purpose for their life. Inviting youth workers to write prayers of blessing and affirmation over a particular senior and then speaking those out loud at a service can be powerful. Those blessings can then be printed off and given to the students. Families can also be invited to pre-record blessings to include in the video presentations created for their teens, or the youth group and congregation can fill up journals and note cards with words of affirmation as the graduates head to college. The gift of words is often far more meaningful than anything we could purchase.

Whether you find yourself crafting an elaborate graduation service or you throw a simple party outside, try to think beyond that moment. Invite the church into your plan, find every way to make prayer a priority, give the gift of words and affirmation, and choose elements that will create a meaningful sendoff that will last well beyond college.

Andrea Sawtelle