One Conversation You Need to Have before Your Seniors Graduate

By Guest Contributor April 21, 2015

By Danielle Rhodes

I can only tell you a handful of memories from my senior year of high school—or college, for that matter. Even memories of the last moments in graduate school fade as the months slowly turn to years since my graduation. But at the time, each of these transitions felt like the most important moment of my life.

I would wander around with a lump in my throat and an ache in my stomach. A battle raged in my heart and my mind: What if I am making the wrong decision about my next move? What if I have already made the wrong decision and my life will forever lack true fulfillment? And if I am making the wrong decision, will I be able to recover?

My roommate in grad school used to call these internal conversations “entertaining crazy sharks.” These questions circle around and around, never resolving. The more you dwell on them, the more ferocious they become—like tossing shark bait all around as you dog paddle in the ocean. I was fortunate to have wise men and women in my life to help navigate these treacherous waters. You can do the same for your students. So set aside some time for one solid conversation with each of your seniors before they graduate.

Before we dive into the specifics of what that conversation might look like, let’s take a crash course in the way students make decisions. For every major decision we make, we use a tool called heuristics (mental shortcuts). When we take these shortcuts, we rarely consider our current situations. Instead, our shortcuts are based on past experiences, familiarity, the advice or convictions of others, and personal biases.

So, when a student is trying to decide whether or not to date someone, for example, they probably won’t sit down and write out a long list of pros and cons to arrive at the most reasonable decision. Instead, they’ll use a few shortcuts: How did my last relationship end? Is this person similar to people I’ve dated in the past? What do my friends think of this person? Is she cute? Is he popular? As you can see, some heuristics lead to better decisions than others.

Regardless of the shortcuts used, making a life-changing decision is an anxiety-ridden process. And that fear won’t go away after reaching a final decision. That is completely normal. When sitting down to have a graduation conversation with your seniors, remember these three things.

“Making a life-changing decision is an anxiety-ridden process.”

1) Listen first! Advise later.

It is human nature to give advice first and ask questions later. But when it comes to our students—those who have figured out their post-grad plans and those who haven’t—exercise caution before telling them what they should or should not do. Students may see our advice as “gospel” truth, but our own biases can stain the advice we give.

Very rarely do students ask for advice with absolutely zero idea of which step to take. Most already have the pieces to the puzzle. They’re just waiting for someone to help them put it together because they’re blinded by anxiety and fear of failure. How do we help each particular student start putting the pieces together? By asking solid questions, listening carefully to their answers, and uncovering which heuristic shortcuts they’ve already used and which they should pay more attention to in their decision-making process. Ask questions that will safely lead students to share their goals with you—for example, “What are some things that get you fired up?” Even if students haven’t arrived at a final decision, they certainly know what they don’t want to do. Simple, specific questions like, “Do you enjoy art?” will help narrow their choices. Start with what you know about each student and work from there.

2) Ministry has many faces.

The single most damaging belief I had after graduation was that if someone was not in a professional ministry (teaching, preaching, or missions work) then they weren’t following God’s plan. Needless to say, I became frustrated when I realized I couldn’t do any of these three ministries for an extended period of time. Yet all who follow Christ are called to minister to others in whatever they do. The truth is, there are many places in need of godly leadership (just check out Romans 12:6–8). The realms of business, politics, and finance (to name a few) are in desperate need of godly leaders.

“With graduation decisions, our students are all giving up something.”

3) Loss is a part of every decision.

The gospel is risky. Believing in anything (other than a non-committal “tolerance”) is increasing unpopular in today’s world. Jesus called his disciples one by one to drop everything and follow him. It was a decision that would shape the rest of their lives and impact generations to come. But it was risky. They gave up so much: the freedom to live for themselves; their businesses, finances, and families; their security.

With graduation decisions, our students are all giving up something, too. If students choose to move out of the state, they give up security and familiarity. If they choose to stay, they give up the thrill of reinventing themselves in new environments. And like Jesus’ disciples, your students will have to decide whether or not to bring their faith with them, wherever they go. Help them understand that it’s a risk worth taking.

Use this conversation to get your students excited about their futures! Whatever decisions they are facing right now, remind them that this is only the beginning. I would love to scream at the top of my lungs to every graduate that life never stops changing. There will be many more decisions to come. God promises to love us through each and every decision we make. He’s there to celebrate when we make the right decisions, and he’s there to redeem our decisions that don’t work out. And guess what? There will be some course corrections and reevaluations along the way. Remind your students that his grace is sufficient.

This conversation is also a great place to pass along a senior gift. If you’re looking for something that will help seniors navigate the graduation transition, try Moving On.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry…  Read More