How to Help Young Graduates Flourish

High school and college graduation approaches. How will the graduates you know fare in the “real world”?

Historically, parents assumed their children would live more economically secure, comfortable, and enjoyable lives than themselves. Now, as a result of heightened global economic competition, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and higher education and health care inflation, many parents worry about whether their new graduates will live as well as them.

Apart from the vagaries of the national and global economy, and health care and higher education inflation, what will determine how the new graduates fare? Many believe people’s success is a result of their initiative, ability, and work ethic. Others highlight the importance of family background, gender, and ethnicity. I believe it’s both/and. 

But there’s one other indispensable variable—the vision young graduates have of their future. More specifically, how positive that vision is. Can they picture themselves educated, healthy, doing meaningful work, fulfilled? I wish I could interview all four hundred graduates at Olympia High School to discover patterns and themes in their personal visions. “Describe your 25 year old self,” I’d start. Initially at least, many would stare blankly at me, but with follow up questions and disciplined listening, I’d learn a lot.

Parents worry. Incessantly. Will their children be able to afford to continue their education and graduate college? Will they find a job that pays a livable wage? Will they have medical benefits? Are they going to manage money wisely? Will they avoid the pitfalls of addiction? Will they enjoy good mental and physical health? Will they make friends upon which they can depend? Will they be okay? Understandably, many young people internalize their parents’ anxiety.

One thing determines whether a young person enters the “real world” with a positive vision of their future—whether the adults they interact with on a daily basis transmit hope for the future. If young graduates are surrounded by people who live as if “things are getting better” the more likely they are to flourish.

This isn’t just positive thinking bullshit. What does it mean to live as if things are getting better? It means denying one self day-to-day in the interest of the future vision. People with positive visions get up and go to work and save money. They eat healthily. They exercise. Their careful with their money, meaning they spend most of it on essentials. They take care of their possessions. They care for the environment by picking up trash, recycling, and reducing their energy consumption. They volunteer their time to make others’ lives better. They live their day-to-day lives mindful of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And other people’s children and grandchildren.

Some young graduates are surrounded by adults—older siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, youth pastors, neighbors—with positive visions of a better future. Adults who unwittingly teach delayed gratification. Those young grads can’t help but get caught up in the positive momentum. Their grades and test scores aren’t that important. Or how prestigious their college. They’ll be okay.

Others are surrounded by adults living day-to-day without any vision for a better future. They don’t have a feel for delayed gratification, and therefore, can’t help but get caught up in the negative momentum. They’ll struggle.

Give a graduate the best gift possible this year, model a positive vision of the future.

 

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