Last weekend, I watched my niece Erin walk across the gym floor decked out in a cap and gown. This Sunday, it will be my nephew Dustin’s turn. Two more high school graduates in the world. And they are just two of millions who are donning the mortar board, taking that final walk, and then tossing their hats into the air when pronounced fully graduated.

Most of us probably know someone who is saying goodbye to high school or college or a master’s program or a technical school education. How do we encourage them as they move on to what’s next? Here are five ways to bring words to life for graduates:


  1. Do more than sign the card. Whether you are buying them a gift or passing along some cash, when you pick out the card, do more than just write your name. Tell them a story from when they were young or the first time you met them. Share a quality you admire in them; cast a vision for where you see them going. Transitions can be scary, especially for those graduates whose next step is moving out on their own. Help build their confidence with your words.
  2. Write a letter of recommendation. Whether they are looking for just a summer job or trying to launch a career, graduates entering the job market have little experience and a big need for mentors and advisors to help forge the way for them. How can you help a new graduate enter the workforce? Offer to write letters of recommendation for those you know well enough, or if you are in a position to, hire a new grad yourself or offer to mentor one.
  3. Buy them a journal. I recently met a woman who told me that her dad bought her a journal each year starting when she was very young and told her to write at least one sentence a day. It’s a practice she continued into adulthood, marriage, parenting, career, etc. What a wonderful time to encourage a young person to become more self-reflective and to begin a new discipline.
  4. Believe in their ambitions. My niece Erin delivered one of four Salutatorian addresses at her commencement, and in her speech, she exhorted her classmates to take risks and to aim high to follow their dreams, to not let fear hold them back. It was a beautiful speech and scary even for a 44-year-old to think about. Know a young person with an impossible dream? Believe in them anyway. And if (when) they fail, be there to help them start dreaming again. (And if you happen to know a new graduate who is dreaming of being a writer someday, consider sending them a copy of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts*.)
  5. Stay in touch. Don’t let the graduation open houses with their meat platters and sheet cakes be the last time you talk with new grads. Send another card in the fall when the high school grads are heading off to college. Put together a care package for those entering the military. Plan a lunch date three months after the college grad starts her new job. Write letters with actual stamps to remind these young (or even old) graduates they are not alone.

I remember the feeling of starting fresh and having the world by the tail. Let’s encourage all our grads who are just launching out into the world with their own sense of adventure and invincibility.

Photo by Cindee Snider Re, via Flickr, used with permission.

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