May 01, 2017
5 Strategies for Honoring Graduating Seniors
Erica Young Reitz is our go-to expert on serving seniors. She provides five strategies for honoring the seniors who are graduating from your ministry.
“Did anyone get contact information from our graduating seniors?” We sat around our church staff meeting and stared at each other with blank faces. Nope. We had overlooked a key detail. With dozens of students graduating each semester, we needed to be purposeful if we wanted to track and keep in touch with alumni (especially in a church context that convenes students from a number of different on-campus ministries). Early-on in ministry, I botched this opportunity…for too many semesters to count. I not only missed chances to capture contact information, but I also missed deeper and wider ways of honoring graduating seniors.
Celebrating and commissioning seniors is a gift to them, their future, and the future of your ministry. We need to make time, space, and resources available for sending-off our seniors well. Here are five strategies for honoring seniors before they leave:
Graduation is a huge milestone and a great reason to celebrate seniors. Throw a party. Take them out dinner. Or host a special brunch after church. Your celebration doesn’t have to break the bank, but if you budget on academic year make sure you reserve some dollars to give your seniors a nice send-off. I love an excuse to pull out a punchbowl, string some white lights, and hopefully send seniors the message, “We love you, we’re so proud of you, and we want to celebrate you!” Whatever your taste, make sure you dedicate a special time and space to celebrate seniors.
2. Make space for reflection.
As you make time to honor them, it’s also important to create space for seniors to look back on their college experience. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says, “Stand at the crossroad and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (6:16). As students approach the “crossroads” of college coming to a close, invite them to look back on their undergrad experience or their senior year. Here are some reflection questions you can ask:
- Where did God meet you this year? How has He shown His faithfulness to you?
- What’s sticky? What lessons, learning, or practical wisdom will you take with you?
- What will you leave behind? What old patterns, thoughts, or unhealthy actions will you let go of?
3. Commission those going into the marketplace.
No matter what job or field of study they pursue after college, every student needs to know their next step matters. A number of years ago, our church invited those going on spring break trips to stand during the worship service so everyone could pray and commission us. I was planning to go to NYC for a few days to serve the homeless population. It struck me as odd that we often pray more and harder for short-term service trips than for those going into the mission field of the marketplace every day. Our engineers, teachers, accountants, artists, and entrepreneurs should be given the same honor as those who have decided to go into full-time vocational ministry or missions/service work. Let’s commission all of our students to do good work in whatever field God has called them.
4. Help them anticipate what’s next.
There is often a gap between what students expect will happen after college and the reality they face. We can close that gap by helping students set realistic expectations as they anticipate what’s next. Since life right after college can be both “the best of times and worst of times,” we should offer real hope and “real world” wisdom. We need to normalize the challenges our graduates are about to encounter (transitions are tough!) but also fan into flame the excitement in their hearts (adventure awaits!) One practical way to help students anticipate what’s to come is to let them hear from former students. Invite your alumni to return for a panel discussion. Or, create a short video montage with clips from former students. Ask them to share the best part of life after college, one surprise, and one piece of advice or word of encouragement.
5. Invite them into your alumni network.
Last but never least, don’t forget to capture contact information! Invite seniors to share the email address they plan to use after college (especially if their school account expires), their cell number, and where they’re headed after graduation (if they know). This is not just about tracking alumni, important as that is; it’s about casting vision for what it means for graduates to be a part of your alumni network. Share about the ministry you have (or hope to have) with alumni of your fellowship or church – let them know what’s in it for them. Whether it’s helping them find a church/community post-college, encouraging them with updates, or giving them opportunities to give back (not just financially), seniors need to know why they should stay connected. Most importantly, we need to know why a thriving alumni network matters. A strong network blesses seniors as the launch into the world. It fosters sustainability of our ministry as alumni give back. And, it inspires current students and staff as they see graduates pursue faithfulness after college. So, let’s celebrate seniors, send them off well, and stay connected!
How do you celebrate and commission graduating seniors? Any special rituals or rites of passage?