The walk across the graduation stage is a physically short distance but the reality of life from the beginning to the end of that walk is immeasurable. Those final steps as a college student don’t take very long, yet the past four years with all its joys, trials, loves, and heartaches are summed up in this one moment. The pure joy of surviving these critical years is mixed with the sadness that comes with goodbyes and a new phase of life.
The coming days, months, years, and decades promise change – I don’t know what that change is but I know it will happen. For the past twenty-some years graduates prepare for this moment, the moment of stepping into the world as an adult, an active member of society, and seeing what God is planning to take us. That proposition can be exhilarating and yet terrifying. Up to this point, expectations have been laid out and formulas for how to succeed have been provided. Even with the professors you didn’t completely understand, there was some guideline on how to do well, how to triumph over the task in front of you.
Life doesn’t come with a syllabus. Instead of objective “right” answers to the situations we encounter, we are required to face increasingly complex situations with the reality that there is probably a better answer, but not a single right answer. There is no objective grade that someone will hand to you; that also means the guidelines for right and wrong are very quickly blurred.
In her dissertation for the University of Maryland, College Park, Kirsten Freeman Fox identifies four characteristics which mark the transition from college to adulthood: managing loss, establishing place, focusing on self, and searching for purpose. While these marks often accompany all types of transition, these can be especially prominent for graduates who have not necessarily faced the challenges – physical, financial, emotional, and psychological – that are often associated with transitions. Any one of these factors alone is difficult to handle, but the post-college transition makes one face all of these at the same moment.
A person’s worldview and idea of what is important effect this transition in irreversible ways. Through the lens of faith, the transition can emphasize different priorities. Important to realize as we face the new stage is our influence on the common good of society. No matter our major, occupation, or vocation – financial analyst, teacher, engineer, pastor, counselor, homemaker, or anything in between – we are called to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.”
Seeking common good can take many forms. However, one of the most inherent ways to act on the idea is to engage your vocation wholeheartedly and seeing it as God’s call. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
The street sweeper is seeking the flourishing of his city by sweeping the streets as well as he can. The clean streets don’t restrict themselves to serving God-honoring Christians, but rather serve the populace. This is a facet of seeking the common good. As recent graduates, we need to get our priorities straight, to seek the good outside of ourselves, and embrace the challenges and heartaches along with the joys and excitement of the transition.