#TellHisStory: Dear Graduate. (20 Bits of Truth for Graduates … and Maybe for All of Us)

May 5, 2015 | 18 comments

Dear graduate,

Listen up, kid. Let me have your ears for the next three minutes, before you pick up your diploma and head out the door.

I sat in your seat exactly 25 years ago, waiting to be called to the stage for my diploma. A lot has changed since my graduation in 1990, but the most important stuff is the same. The truthiest truths are still true. And if I could tell you 20 things I’ve learned about life, these would be it:

 1 — Let yourself be awed.

Retain your wonder of all that cool stuff that made you marvel as a kid — how ants carry food, and how seeds the size of freckles have the strength to push through the earth, and how snowflakes get stuck on eyelashes, and how the sun’s skinny rays — angling through the clouds –make a stairway to heaven. There’s magic in the miniscule.

— Wear your Bossy Face.

Your not-enoughs will be bossy. You’ve got to be bossier. Wear your “I-mean-business, don’t-give-me-none-of-that” eyes, and show you’re not-enoughs who’s boss.

3 – Keep learning.

Read poetry that you don’t understand, then try writing some that you do. Thumb through books about stars and war and staining the deck and planting a garden and humpback whales. Take classes, just because. Listen long enough to let someone teach you, instead of dreaming up what you’re going to say next.

4 – Yes, there really is such a thing as a dumb question. Ask it anyway.

You’ll learn the most about this wonderful world, and about yourself, when you are brave enough to look stupid.

5 – Make plans that scare you.

But don’t have a freak attack when the world chews up your plans and spits them onto the stained carpet of your first apartment. Because even when you outline your goals on a yellow legal pad, life has a way of making plans of its own. That’s where it gets exciting.

6 — Develop a spirit of gratitude. Start by thanking your parents.

They knew more than you gave them credit for. Mark Twain said it like this: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

7 — Be serious about your work, but don’t take yourself too seriously. 

Life can be really funny, even the hard parts. Job interviews and first dates aren’t wakes, for heaven’s sake. Go ahead, laugh at yourself. And make friends who’ll help you see the humor when life hurts.

8 — Success doesn’t always wear a three-piece suit.

So don’t be shocked when your life is suddenly wearing yoga pants and baby spit-up.

9 – Be all here with the people who are right there.

Don’t look over the shoulder of the person in front of you. Yes, I know, there are other people in the room with important titles. I know you’ll be itching to get your face in front of them. But don’t get so eager to scratch that itch that you miss the miracle of personhood standing before you.

10 – Rethink failure.

Failure isn’t getting it wrong. It’s having never tried.

11 – Look in the rear view mirror.

We’ve all got somewhere to go, things to do, people to see. But every day, we’ve got to tap the brakes and come to a full stop. People say “don’t look back,” but I disagree. It’s okay to look in the rear-view mirror now and then, to see how far we’ve come, and to recall the grace that brought us safe thus far. And then the most honorable thing we can do is stay a moment longer, to enjoy the present-tense beauty of this one precious life — brimming with bud and twig and bird and light and shadow …. in our own patch of planet.

12 – Be willing to look stupid.

It’s okay if they think you’re nuts. It makes you more like Jesus.

13- Make your bed every day.

Twenty-five years later, I’m beginning to learn that making the bed is what millions of healthy, happy grown-ups around the world have been doing for centuries. If your mom taught you to make your bed, keep up the good habit. If she didn’t, it’s not too late to start. Here’s one good reason why: If you whole day is a disaster, you’ll still come home to a bed that you made with your own two hands.

14 – Remember: God can’t unlove you.

You will mess up. Shame will try to devour you. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them control you. The truth is, God isn’t crossing his arms over his chest, waiting for you to mess up again.  He is coming toward you, arms open wide — loving the present-day you and cheering you on as you grow in Him.

15 – Spread the love.

Knowing how much you’re loved by God — no matter what — changes your heart, and then it changes your life. Maybe you’ve heard the wise saying “Hurt people hurt people.” Knowing how much you are truly loved by God, gives you the freedom to live like this instead: “Loved people love people.”

16 – Don’t let the slammed doors derail you.

A few doors will slam shut in your face – from people who loved you, or hired you, or helped you, … then hurt you. And it might look like a sad ending. But be thankful for the closed door, for it help you turn around and find the one standing open for you.

17 – Go weak. 

Moses didn’t think he was qualified enough.

Gideon didn’t think he was strong enough.

Sarah didn’t think she was young enough.

The woman at the well didn’t think she was holy enough.

Zacchaeus didn’t think he was tall enough.

But God takes you as you are. He’ll qualify you and strengthen you. He’ll give you what you need — whether that’s a family, a fresh start, a dinner date or all of the above.

God chooses the weak. He’s not asking you to be a hero or a star. He’s asking you to do something He created you to do. He knows how this all turns out.


18 – Think good thoughts.

We live in an age of cynicism, and it’s tempting to join the crowd. The cynics will tell you you’re being naive and silly with all that optimism. But positive thinking isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of your strength. Sometimes being joyful and grateful are the hardest, strongest things we can do in a busted-up world. But it’s good for us. God says so. Go, therefore, and wallpaper your mind with the things that are: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

19 – Consider what breaks your heart.

That’s where you’ll find your purpose. What breaks your heart? Is it the orphan? The uneducated children? The untouched nation? The lonely widow? The lost? The sick? The spiritually hungry? Go there.

20 – Remember what you learned when you were a kid.

Every day’s a new day to learn something new. To make a new friend. To be kind even when she’s not. To eat your veggies. And thank the janitors. To make time for recess. To let someone else go first. To make space at the table. To tell someone you’re proud of them. To do your best, not BE the best. To listen to your teachers, sure, but to let your mind drift to summer a little. Use your crayons. Slide down backwards. Swing higher than you did yesterday. Look out for the underdog. Ask for help. And come home when it’s over, where there’s a place at the table saved just for you.

What advice would you give to a graduate?


Hey Tell His Story crew! It’s always a joy to gather here every week. The linkup goes lives each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great. And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Paige Givens is our latest featured writer. Paige has a sweet story for us, a lesson she learned from a bucket of crayons! (To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. 🙂 )

xo Jennifer


by | May 5, 2015 | 18 comments


  1. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Oh, Jennifer, I liked #20 the best….living my days as I do in schools in the neighborhood. Make room for people, thank the janitor, take time for recess… fits any age of life!

    • dukeslee

      I love the janitors, and all the picker-uppers of this world.

  2. Colleen Connell Mitchell

    I am cracking up about the bossy face. Because I have gathered courage from that bossy face of yours before. All the yeses to these, friend. Will be sharing with some of my favorite grads. And my almost senior. Sob.

    • dukeslee

      I’m pretty intimidating. Watch out.

      And you have an almost senior. I have a shoulder. You may sob upon it. ~sad face~

  3. Kristi Woods

    How fun! What a neat list, Jennifer. I’m loving the “go weak” one. So true.

  4. Anita

    I love your list of advice! I would add, “Remember, you are not now, nor have you ever been, in control. God has that covered. So stop acting as if YOU have to do the controlling (whether it’s in your life or someone else’s life.”

  5. Mary

    I love this list and find that it is perfect for me right now in my life. No I am not graduating but I am retiring! Yikes! So much to reflect on and so much to be thankful for but now it is time for next steps-brave yeses that speak of how I love to follow God. Have a blessed week friend!

  6. Tiffany

    Oh, I love these so much and I can’t even pick one – or 5. Rethink failure – as a recovering perfectionist that one has to speak to me (many years after graduation). I’m going to print these and tuck them away for my 12 year old and the all too quickly approaching graduation day. Blessed as always, Jennifer – thank you!

  7. Lisa notes...

    I love every single one of these, Jennifer! I’ll pass them along to my daughter who is graduating from college this Saturday (yikes!!!). This is one of my faves:

    9 – Be all here with the people who are right there.

  8. Kamea Hope

    This is great! I love number 17 ‘Go weak’! God is best glorified when He works through our weaknesses. This is so reassuring, and hope-inspiring!
    As always, thank you 🙂


  9. Cheryl Smith

    These are wonderful for graduates….but, I needed them so much, too! I think the thing I would tell a graduate is to surrender everything to God early. It saves SO much heartache to just relinquish the will while you are young and before you make any life-altering mistakes. No wonder Solomon’s admonition was “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth”. It is the best advice my parents ever gave me. I’m so thankful I listened to them…and Him…even when I thought I knew a better way. I leave here refreshed, as always, Jennifer. Thank you! 🙂

  10. Betsy Cruz

    My son’s graduating from high school in a few weeks! This is such an encouraging list. I like #16, about not letting slammed doors derail you. He had a slammed door last month –admission to the college he dreamed of– but come to find out God opened another door SO CLEARLY, providing a $35,000 scholarship at another school!

    My advice? Don’t be surprised when life gets hard, but don’t let the hard knocks get you down, because God is in control, and He has plans for your good.

  11. Michele Morin

    Jennifer, this is so heartening to read. Two of mine have donned the cap and gown and moved onto bigger (and scarier for this mum) things, and it has given me joy to see God leading — and them following! Two more to go! God is faithful!

  12. Alecia Simersky

    Love your bossy face! 🙂 I’ll be saving this gem for my daughter to read.

  13. Katie Reid

    Great list for the graduates and maybe for some of us older folks too- ha!:)



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