Skip to main content

An Open Letter to College Graduates

.basic-page h1 {text-align:center;} article{margin:0 auto;max-width:700px;}

I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend teaching college students, and the experience made me think about what it is like to graduate and enter the workforce today. I’m offering some unsolicited advice with the hope that it will be helpful in this next season.  

Dear Graduate,

Congratulations on finishing 17+ years of formal education.  To reach this point, you have had to learn a lot, not only about your chosen (and unchosen) areas of study, but also about yourself – how you learn, how to prioritize, how to manage your time and what interests you.

Here is the bad news.  After all those hours in school, your education isn’t even close to being finished.  Really, it has only just begun.

Now, you are the proctor of your own curriculum, and most of what you learn will be through observation.  My father once told me that most lessons are caught, not taught.  Watch what people who are successful in their fields do.  Which of their habits and practices, can you incorporate into the way you work?  Spend time with people you admire and ask them what mistakes they have made that you can learn from.

Speaking of mistakes, get ready to make a lot of them.  Don’t be discouraged, instead realize that our own experiences — and especially our failures — are the best way to learn the most important lessons.  Every time you fail, ask what you can learn from it, and then, go try something new.  Oliver Goldsmith said it best: Success is getting up one more time than you fall.

Here is the good news.  Despite any apprehension that you are currently feeling, you are ready.  Your studies have equipped you with knowledge that will serve as a foundation to understand all the information coming your way. This is an incredible advantage as you figure out how you can add value to the world.

You are going to receive more information in one day than people 200 years ago would receive in a lifetime. Your biggest challenge is going to be deciding which of it to believe.

Remember that every message comes with a motive. Every story you read is written by a journalist with personal bias. Even historians have a point of view through which they interpret the past. There is no such thing as total objectivity.

You are going to be asked to make your mind up about all kinds of topics – most of which you haven’t even heard of yet. And before you can form an opinion, you must first make up your mind about whose opinions you will listen to.

Until now, you have had little choice in those who have authority over you. Your parents, teachers and coaches were largely appointed. Now you get to choose many of those authorities – those who influence the way you spend your time and focus your energy.  And most importantly, those who influence how you think. Choose carefully.

The world is going to push you to take sides by telling you those who disagree with you are evil, foolish or out to get you. Conflict captures our attention and those who profit on attention know this. They will enthrall you with made up conflict and then tell you that you are the hero, while those who disagree are the villains. Don’t fall for it. They are telling the other group the same thing.

I love this statement from Pastor Andy Stanley.  “Disagreement is unavoidable; division is always a choice.” Choose unity.

Separate the argument from the arguer. Remember that the person who believes differently than you on one thing is likely to agree with you on many other things. Realize that when you think someone else is wrong, often you will be wrong, too.

When you feel strongly about something, pause to seek information that counters your belief. When it seems that everyone around you agrees, look for a credible source who disagrees. When everything you read or watch is saying the same thing, realize that means you have stopped growing. No one learns when all they hear is what they already think being repeated back to them.  Refuse to live in an echo chamber.

Take the time to ask yourself hard questions. Be honest with yourself. Be purposeful about your choices and reflective about why you make them.

You are entering a world that is eager for your arrival. We need and want you here because there is so much that needs to be done. Resist the temptation to let that go to your head – you didn’t do anything to warrant it. Instead, embrace it with the humility of one who has been invited to join a great work started by others.

There is beautiful verse in the Bible that says, “We drink from wells we did not dig; we are warmed by fires we did not kindle.” (Deut. 6:11) You will be drinking from wells you did not dig. We know this because we didn’t dig the wells that feed us either. Our job has been to make sure there is enough water for you and to show you how to dig wells for others.  Whether you accept that responsibility is perhaps your biggest decision. You must decide what your life will be about – whether you will be a digger or merely a drinker. Start asking yourself, what is the life you will wish you had lived? When you look back at today, what decisions will wish you had made?

The sooner you begin to think about the purpose of your life, the sooner you can start living the one you will wish you had. You are not promised tomorrow, so make today one that will help you fulfill that wish.

Welcome to the next chapter. It is hard, confusing, and often scary. But we are all in it together.  Come help us make it better. We are glad you are here.