Graduation comes every year. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut of what to say, what to give, or what to do. Here is a collection of ideas that we hope you find useful in the coming months and years as you send youth out in to the world.
Once upon a time (when I was a youth) the only gifts for graduates were mass published and contained “for grads” in the title. While I’m sure there’s some value to those, they’re a bit impersonal and usually do little more than collect dust. So what are some other options?
Theme specific… if you have a theme, hopefully it ran throughout the year and had some kind of influence on your seniors. Grab something that will create memories of their senior year’s theme. This year our theme is “the Journey”, and we’ll give our grads compasses with our theme verse printed on them. It’s a simple way to maintain that connection once they take off to wherever it is they’re going.
A Bible… Is the gift Bible cliché for churches to give? Maybe. But many churches give Bibles to signify transitions between ministries, why not this one? Find a great translation and get it personalized, then write a note inside to give it a more personal touch. Added bonus: who’s going to throw away a Bible?
Devotional/Book… Yes, I know what I said, and there are some really terribly written ones available. BUT there are some pretty solid ones too. A book could be even better than a devotional, I can recall several books that have been infinitely formative for me (looking at you, CS Lewis). You know your group, keep an eye out for something that suites the majority of them and go to town, or to Amazon.
Personal… This is especially cool if you have a small group or a few that have been with you for a long time. There are infinite inside jokes within groups, and most youth have that “defining moment” in a group. Find something that represents each one, and you have a nice unique gift that encapsulates her or his youth group experience.
A Letter… Again, if you have 100 seniors or you have no clue who they are, this might not be your go-to. If you have a group you know well, this one is a home run. Take some time to reminisce about the seniors’ time in your group, and jot down some memorable/meaningful moments. Who doesn’t like actual handwritten letters?
Scripture… Didn’t I already say Bibles? Yes, but this is different-ish. Some youth ministers encourage youth to find “life verses” that they own throughout their time in the group. Being youth, many of them change from year to year, or week to week. So use his or her most recent or most prevalent theme verse and do something crafty with it. Paint a background and put it on a canvas, create something that symbolizes it, find a cool font and frame it, shoot just mark it in their Bible you’ll give to them.
A Prayer/Poem… Another super easy one. One of my favorites is Thomas Merton’s “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going” prayer. It’s quite appropriate for graduates, too. This works for benedictions, prayers, other quotes – if you’re artistic, then go nuts. If you’re not a fan of arts and crafts, just find a cool font and frame it.
A Candle… We light the Christ candle every Wednesday night when we begin worship. The Christ candle comes with us on retreats. Send a candle with your grads to remind them of those experiences, “to light their way” so to speak, or so that they’ll think of you when their apartment gets funky and they need something that smells nice.
A Moment… This one’s tricky. Not every group or individual has one, but some have that moment. It defines the group or you to really see who this individual was becoming. Maybe it was the spring break trip when everyone was in tears and snotting on each other because they realized they’d would always have each others’ backs, or maybe she/he accepted Christ in the youth group. Find something to symbolize or capture that moment and give them that moment to take with them.
Picture/Collage… Potentially time intensive if you go the collage route, this is a photo version of the memorable moment letter. Find your seniors’ pictures from the beginning to the end, make sure don’t leave anyone out (or do, that’s your call) and create collage for all of them. For an even easier version, take a picture of them all together and give everyone a print.
Bible with letters… One church puts a Bible for each senior in the hallway for 3 weeks leading up to graduation Sunday. The members of the congregation are encouraged to place letters, poems, and notes inside the Bibles. As the weeks pass by the seniors get more and more excited to receive their Bibles. This allows the congregation to give the present, instead of just one staff member.
Grad sermon ideas/ possible scriptures:
Not all churches take an entire Sunday to focus on graduates. Naturally, everyone at least acknowledges the grads in the main service though. If you have a special Sunday for it, graduation sermons are one of the few times of the year it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore the majority of the church and preach at 10 kids the entire time. Here are some ideas that hopefully get your brain juices flowing.
Proverbs 19:21 or Jeremiah 29:11 – “I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle…” We’ve all got plans, ambitions, goals. When I was little I was dead set on being a ninja turtle when I grew up. I’m more turtle shaped, but that’s as far as I got. We don’t always have the best ambitions, nor do we actually understand who we are when we graduate high school. Luckily the writer of the proverb is on to something good. God knows us, and God’s plans don’t change – rather than heading for our own success, we should be seeking to work for God’s glory. Similarly, I doubt the Israelites planned for captivity or the Diaspora. They realized they were rather stuck, and were on the verge of giving up. Jeremiah reminds them that they’re God’s people. They might be away from home, but that means they have a new home and Israelites are Israelites wherever they find themselves, meaning God’s people are God’s people, even when they aren’t at home. God calls us to be his people wherever we are. Oh, and I wanted to be a ninja turtle when I grew up, hence the Title.
Joshua 1:9, Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Down the road we go” Guess what, college kids? It’s a whole new world, and that’s scary. Sure it’s exciting, and you’re gung ho about getting out of the house. But be honest, you’re a little scared about what’s ahead. Well so were the Israelites – even moving toward the promised land, they were apprehensive because they didn’t know what would be happening. Luckily God does know, God’s already there. It doesn’t make it less scary or less new, but knowing that God is already ahead of us can help us see things in a new light.
Ephesians 2:19-22, 2 Tim 3:14-16 – “It takes a village” Look around you. How many of these people have taught, chaperoned, fed, or even simply kept up with what you’ve done as you’ve grown up here? Most of them. Even those you didn’t know about have impacted you in ways you will never know. Understand that as you leave here, community is vital for our spiritual and even physical health. The Hobbits couldn’t do it alone, and neither can you.
1 Cor 13:11-12 – “Welcome to Adulting” Welcome to adulthood. It sucks. Just kidding, but seriously it’s hard. Paul knew it, and now is the time. You are moving out on your own! Bills, making your own schedule, cooking (yes, you have to learn), laundry… there’s more to being an adult that simply not having supervision. Part of that is knowing who you are and understanding things are changing. As Paul says, “we’re squinting through a fog”, you don’t have to have everything figured out, but we do have to understand that we’re now the masters of our own destiny, and faith is more important than laundry.
1 Tim 4:4-11 – “You’re young, We get it” If you’ve been in the church for any amount of time as a youth, you’ve been told, “don’t let people look down on you because you’re young”. 100% true – but don’t ignore the rest of the passage here. Sure you’re young, but you’re perfectly capable of knowing who you are and why you believe what you do, and taking responsibility for it. Go off, make mistakes – but don’t lose perspective or let anyone assume you aren’t capable of teaching and being an example of faith to everyone around you.
Heb 11 – “Gotta have faith” The faith chapter. This is the Biblical hall of fame, listed here are people who are giants of faith, the most influential and integral people in not just the early church, but in our faith as well. So what will you be known for? Let’s be honest: no one is going to care that you jumped from the roof into the pool. Most likely none of you are going pro, so how good you were at baseball in high school will be irrelevant as soon as you walk across that stage. You know what will last? The impact you make in your communities living out your faith.
Matt 5:44 and John 13:35 – “And they will know you by your t-shirts” How are people going to know who you are? Will people recognize you as a Christ follower by more than your vast collection of retreat shirts? Christ calls us to love one another, to love our enemies, and to love others as ourselves – and it’s by this that others will know who we follow. When you are out and away from this church community, what will your actions prove you to be?
1 Peter 2:16 – “Prove them wrong” There are divisive groups of people all over the world, unfortunately church folks can be stereotyped as judgmental, as condescending, as hypocrites – rather than as people who personify love and act as Christ among us. Prove the detractors wrong. By sticking up for others and welcoming others in the spirit of love allows us, as Peter said, to “cure the ignorance of fools who think you’re a danger to society.”
Rom 8:26-28 – “Things happen” Welcome to real life! Guess what, sometimes things will completely collapse on your head. Hooray! But here’s the deal, it’s ok. Things will get better, and when things seem bad you aren’t alone. One way or another the Holy Spirit is right with us the entire time. When we just can’t find words, The Spirit prays for us. When things don’t make sense, we can know that God is still present. We can find the Holy Spirit in community, in church, and in our lives if we only look.
Josh 24:15 – “Do the math” The Israelites worshipped money, they worshipped popularity, they worshipped religion as an institution. Sound familiar? We have options. Joshua lays it out there, and the Israelites decide, and then continually blow it. That’s good news for us, because we will too. We can chase stuff that isn’t going to last and be left unfulfilled and wanting more. Or we can decide to follow hard after God and model our lives after Christ. We don’t have to be perfect, but we have to decide.
Acts 1:15-26 – “The crew” This is where it all began. The church we are part of today began in this room, with a solid community, accountability, and encouragement. Ask any adult about their closest friends and each list will have several people they’ve known since college, or that time frame. High school friends help you survive high school. Friends you make or keep from this point on will influence and be with you for the rest of your life. The community you create/join in will affect the direction of your life from here on out. Choose wisely, no pressure.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 – “turn turn turn” You know, like the Byrds song. It comes from Ecclesiastes. We understand that everything has a time, it’s time to graduate and move on to whatever is next. Life, death, taxes all fall into that. We tend to leave out the last part though. We work and play because that’s why we’re here for whatever time we have. God is and will be, so in all of it we live, and that’s what really matters in the end. Life happens, things change, but do you live your life to worship God?
Prayers for Graduates:
Maybe you need a prayer for a service, or to put in a letter. Here are some great options for this time in the teenagers lives.
Thomas Merton’s Prayer:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Prayer for wisdom and guidance:
I have knowledge, so will You show me now,
How to use it wisely and find a way somehow
To make the world I live in a little better place,
And make life with its problems a little bit easier to face.
Grant me faith and courage and put purpose in my days,
And show me how to serve Thee in effective ways.
So my education, my knowledge and my skill
May find their true fulfillment as I learn to do Thy will.
And may I ever be aware in everything I do,
That knowledge comes from learning, and wisdom comes from You.
Prayer of Thanks and Blessing:
God, we thank you so much for our time here together
For all the friends we have made
For all the days of laughter and fun
And for all the times of great discovery and learning.
We thank You for all who have given of their energy and skill
So that we can graduate today.
Our teachers and mentors
Our family and loved ones
We thank You for them and give them all to You in prayer.
As this chapter on our lives closes, so a new one begins.
We present ourselves like an open book before You.
Come and scribe Your words of life into our lives –
Fill our minds with Your thoughts
Fill our bodies with Your strength
Fill our hearts with Your dreams
That we might eternally love and serve You
This day and every day.
We ask all this in the glorious name of Jesus
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit
World without end.
Prayer for graduates from re-worship(http://re-worship.blogspot.com/):
Before us today, Lord, these are young men and women you have formed and gifted for such an hour as this.
For though these are days like the prophet Isaiah described – days of uncertainty, when thick darkness covers the people – we also know that they are days of incredible opportunity.
May each one of these men and women fly as an arrow of truth to a society often muddled about right and wrong; as an arrow of compassion to the unloved and unwanted; as an arrow of light pointing to a day when the Lord Jesus will reign over the earth.
I pray that they would know the ‘hope of their calling’ and, like Timothy, stir up the gift within them. That when in the course of things they are tempted to lose heart they would know that they are indeed arrows of Your Victory. That they are not consigned to a random existence, but—
called to be Your mouthpiece,
penetrating a distracted and weary world with the wonder of Your wisdom.
called to be an extension of Your hand of grace
to the many they will touch who have never known hat grace feels like.
called to run in shoes of peace,
bearing the Good News that Jesus has made a way for people to know God.
Grant them the gift of faith –
a faith that will illumine every season of hardship and darkness.
Grant them a love for Your Word,
a heart for prayer,
a song of praise and a sensitive ear to your Spirit.
For they will encounter many crossroads in life; not just crossroads of career – but much more importantly crossroads of character.
Times when they will have to decide whether or not to take the path that most glorifies You – even if it means being less successful or lesser known in the eyes of others.
In these days of easily discarded relationships, help each of them know what it means to be a faithful friend, husband, wife, father or mother.
In these days that seem so frantic, help each of them to know Your peace which passes all understanding.
In these days when they will most surely navigate through seas of change and even crisis, help them forge anchors of wisdom out of every disappointment.
And then give them a heart to pass that wisdom on to their children.
And may they never lack in passion for You.
Grant them a spirit that pursues You above all else.
For at the end of the day, we know that it is not about making our mark, but pressing on to Your mark, that prize for which Paul himself strained – the moment when the Master says, “Well done” and the ‘forever’ we will have of knowing You face-to-face.
Prayer for blessing (from national federation for Catholic Youth Ministry):
Before you were even formed, God knew you.
While in your Mother’s womb, God named you.
At your birth, God’s breath filled you with life.
Today we celebrate what you have become
at this moment in time. And so we pray,
God of our beginnings,
We thank you for the gifts of these graduates;
their excitement, their awesome wonder and curiosity,
their open speech and encouraging words.
Their contributions have blessed and challenged us,
and we have become a richer
and more diverse community because of them.
As they step forward into the world that awaits,
comfort their fears with the full knowledge of your divine presence.
Strengthen their resolve to walk in the footsteps of Jesus
as modern-day disciples in a world that needs their spirit.
Guide their feet as they move through life,
protecting them from the pitfalls of darkness
while they help to lead future generations
into the warmth and promise of your light.
We ask this blessing upon each of them,
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Other articles with random collections of advice for graduates.
Another one from Relevant
Cracked.com (language warning, but solid advice)
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Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Youth and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary. He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.