Today our church hosted a breakfast to honor soon-to-be high school graduates. It was for each graduate and their families. We had three graduates on our roster, and I invited a fourth senior to participate due to our close relationship and him not having a church home. They all came.
This week I spent several hours going through hundreds of pictures to make photo albums for each of the graduates. One of them in particular had been active since she was young, up until sometime last year. One moved to the area at the end of her sophomore year of high school so there weren’t too many pictures, but there were enough to make the album look nice. The other was only in probably four events, but fortunately someone was camera happy at those events, so there were enough to make the album worthwhile. I was happy to put it together. My youth director in Knoxville put albums together for seniors, and when my family moved (I was in 9th grade; my brother was in 11th), she gave us ours (early). It began with our confirmation picture and with our youth group blessing. I still have mine.
A few years ago I decided to start doing it for graduates. I think it is so meaningful to look back on all the experiences of youth group and church, and to carry the blessing with you as you depart for college. To be honest, my photo album ended up in boxes and under beds, and I lost it several times…I’m not 100% sure where it is right now…but when I find it seems to be when I need it. To remind me of my experiences in youth group. To remind me of God’s faithfulness. To remind me of my call to ministry.
Some might say we didn’t really need to have the breakfast. Honestly our three seniors on the roster aren’t active in youth group. One comes to church regularly because her mom is the choir director and she likes to sing, but the other two don’t. I don’t even think I ever really officially met one of them. But graduating from high school is an important accomplishment. One that we take for granted. And it is a unique opportunity to honor youth, to connect with them in a real meaningful way before they get wrapped up in the busyness of graduating and transitioning to college.
I LOVE Graduation Sunday. I love it because I love putting the photo albums together. I love it because I love connecting with youth and surprising them with love and grace when they least expect it. I love bringing the seniors up front to be honored and prayed for. I love it because in many ways it honors the parents and their faithfulness to participating in the ministries of the church, even if their kids weren’t able to. Or, it honors youth whose parents aren’t involved, and draws the parents into meaningful relationships in the church before their kids depart for college. It’s also an easy way for youth families that don’t include seniors to come together and host the breakfast. Several of them couldn’t be there but they contributed food items.
There’s just so much potential for connection, for honoring people, for celebration and joy, for reminiscing, and for cake. And balloons. (The Dollar Tree was my best friend this week.)
One of the photo albums featured a now-elderly woman who was playing “table tennis” with one of the now-seniors. I showed her the picture and I swear there were tears in her eyes.
One of the seniors saw a picture in her album of her and an old friend who had moved away, and it meant a lot to her that it was in there (I had no idea).
It’s easy to give up on seniors and accept excuses of busyness and the stress of transition. It’s easy to assume they’re not interested. But even last year, when one didn’t show up but I had still made a photo album for her, it meant something.
My words of advice to churches and those in ministry with youth: Care. Care about (and for) the youth, even when they don’t show up. Show them that you care, even if you never hear back from them. Don’t give up. Be persistent in your love. Not pushy, judgmental, or condescending, but full of grace, full of love, full of peace. What a wonderful gift to offer seniors as they transition into college!! Money and books will be spent or thrown away…but grace, love, and peace will be gifts they’ll cherish forever.