Dear High School Graduate:
I’d like to take a couple of minutes to share a few personal reflections and suggestions that you might think about at this important time in your life. I write as your bishop, a fellow Christian, and a friend, albeit a much older one.
First, congratulations on your graduation from high school. It’s a milestone for you, an intersection of the past and future. The recognition you’ve received is well-deserved. You’ve worked hard, achieved the goals set before you, and managed to stay out of trouble. Well, at least most of the time!
As you graduate, I hope you’ll take a moment to think about and thank all those who made your education possible — your parents and grandparents, your teachers and counselors. There are lots of people who love you and care for you, and they’ve worked hard to provide for your education. It’s pure gift — don’t take it for granted!
At your graduation you were probably told that your education has equipped you to fulfill your dreams; that it has opened the door for you to become anything you want to be. It’s a nice and pious thought of course, but it’s not completely true. (For example, I might dream about becoming a professional golfer, but it’s never going to happen.) Your dreams should be grounded in reality; your life’s work must realistically match your gifts and abilities. And along with thinking about what you want to do with your life, you might want to confer with God about his plans.
Chances are you’re going on to college. If perchance you’re not going to college, (and that is, of course, a very valid and productive option) please take what I say here and apply it to your own situation.
If you’re attending college you can expect it to be a time of great new beginnings. You’ll learn new things that will broaden your horizons and perhaps lead you to become a professional in one field or another. You’ll travel to new places in our country and distant lands even, and you’ll meet people who will become your best friends, maybe even your future spouse. It’s very possible that the general direction of your entire life, personally and professionally, will be determined in the next few years. Without a doubt, college is a time of enormous promise and potential!
But, increasingly, the college years seem to be a time of great peril too. I’ve sat in plenty of Board of Trustee meetings listening to startling reports; I’ve read the news stories. Way too often we’ve heard about college kids getting hurt by alcohol abuse, drug experimentation, the hookup culture, sexual assault, and internet mischief. College campuses have become grown-up playgrounds where foolish kids get into trouble, ruin their lives, derail future plans, and end up in headlines, handcuffs and hospitals, all because of a few moments of bad judgment and dangerous activities.
So, dear graduate, while at college, have fun but don’t be stupid. Be very cautious about the places you go, the pleasures you seek, and the people you associate with. Act responsibly and be respectful of others and yourself.
And for God’s sake, be very prudent about the use of the internet and social media. Bullying, threatening, sexting, pornography — they’ve become a virulent, toxic plague infecting our culture and poisoning an entire generation. You’ve got to assume that whatever you post, wherever you post it, will end up in some public forum somewhere. Write it, and you’ll wear it forever. Once in a while, unplug from all the electronics and talk to people, listen to them, and take in the world around you.
To survive these years, you’ll need a set of strong moral values, some guiding principles to live by, and for that reason I encourage you to stay active in your faith and close to the Church. Christ must be the center of your life. The Bible tells us to “keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfector of our faith.” (Heb 12:2) That’s really good advice!
Your faith is the bridge that keeps you connected to Jesus in a tangible way. So it’s important that you pray. (And not just before exams!) Go to Mass. Receive the sacraments. Keep the Commandments. Serve others with compassion and understanding. Live the joy of the Gospel and share it with others.
The practice of your faith is essential and helpful at this time in your life, and in the years to come. It’s the rock-solid foundation upon which you can build your future success and personal fulfillment. It’s the harbor that will always be there to welcome you home whenever you encounter the turbulent storms that’ll inevitably come your way.
Wherever you go to college — whether in a Catholic or secular setting — the Church will be there for you in one form or another: a nearby parish, a Newman Center, a Catholic organization. Get involved. Share your gifts and talents. As I’ve said so often during Confirmation ceremonies, you need the Church, and the Church also needs you and the leadership you can provide.
So, dear graduate, once again, congratulations! We, your family and friends, love you and are proud of you. We pray for your happiness and future success. As you move on now to begin writing the next chapter of your life, be grateful, be joyful, be faithful and, please — be careful.