Twelve Truths Every Graduate Needs

It has been 15 years since I graduated from college. Wow. This has me wondering what kinds of truths every graduate needs to hear as they are transitioning into new life adventures? What do they desperately need to hear from the “wise grownups” around them? What did I need to know about myself and the world that might have made the journey different? What words might inspire action, deep thought, and HOPE from those who have demonstrated HOPE with their very lives? The truth is young people buy what we are selling when we are actually living it. 

twelve truths every graduate needs to know jkmcguire

Here is my list of Twelve Truths Every Graduate Needs…

One: Your dreams are valid. You have a purpose on this planet which extends beyond your parents, family, and friends. Your purpose is significant to us and the world. No one person has the right to define what this purpose is for you. No matter how much they have your best interests at heart – they can only help you uncover and discover and celebrate your unique purpose and dreams.

 “A lot of parents are convinced that their kids could care less about them. Maybe it’s because we’ve squandered too many opportunities to show how much they matter to us. We’ve been too busy when they needed our attention, we’ve been too harsh when they’ve let us down, and we’ve been too skeptical when they let us peek at their dreams. They long to have a significant purpose, and they long to know that their purpose matters to us.” (Tim Kimmel, Grace-Based Parenting)

Two: You have NO reason to apologize for your life or who you are. There is NOTHING wrong with you. Women are the worst at this – we are taught in the confines of patriarchy to apologize for all.the.things. We don’t stop.We often do not even realize we are doing it.

  • We apologize for getting in the way.
  • We apologize for having an opinion.
  • We apologize for doing a great job.
  • We apologize for winning.
  • We apologize for being sensitive to the needs of others.
  • We apologize for being right.
  • We apologize for speaking up.
  • We apologize for being too much.

A young graduate – especially a woman needs to know they have no reason to apologize. I repeat: there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to apologize. Be you without apology or excuse.

moments of remembering

Three: Life is short. Life is also long. Every breath is a miracle. Your time here is sacred.

I suffered a blood clot in the lung less than two weeks after the birth of our daughter. It was a significant moment of reset for my life. I sat in bed with an oxygen mask strapped to my face watching my husband hold our newborn daughter and I wept. I was going to miss it. I was going to miss the life I had imagined and planned. I was going to miss this man. I was going to miss my parents. I was going to miss my children’s becoming.

Here I was a month away from turning 36 and I had barely lived and they had barely lived and I was going to miss the whole damn thing.

I have been marked. This is my moment of remembering. When these moments happen – and they will – pause and listen to your life.

Everyone I encountered after my blood clot said, “Well, you are better now right?” But I was not – I am not. I will bear the marks of this moment, the veil between here and forever – for all of my life. Every time my body hurts when I breathe I will know: Life is a miracle.

Four: Find what makes your heart soar and run with it. If you want to know HOW to live consider the way in which nature thrives – sun up to sun down, moon rise to moon set – all of the world’s inhabitants have a purpose. Each person, plant, insect, and animal has a unique bearing on this world – and collectively we are working together to make all things new. We are healing broken places through gifted physicians and healers and guides. We are discovering truth we didn’t know before through philosophers, inventors, scientists, teachers, researchers, and more. We are healing the planet – or at least advocating on its behalf (see these warrior kids – no one is too young). We are training and educating, offering hope and a listening ear as teachers, therapists, professors, and clergy.

Our corporate gathering of gifts and wonderment as people are what make the world a place where healing, hope, love, compassion, and redemption gather.

we need more and more of you

We desperately need you to find who you are. Uncover your authentic, courageous, unashamed self – so that you can bring what this world needs most… more and more of you.

Four: You won’t be able to make peace with everyone – some people will not like you, others will need you to change to be OK with you, and some folks are going to be downright ignorant, narcissistic, and mean. YOU will harm yourself trying to MAKE others OK with you. Approval seeking is an addiction. People pleasing is a counterfeit, unfulfilling god. You worry about you. Mind your own bowl. Forgive. Live as a person who rejects bitterness, cynicism, and grudges. Understand some people have a vested interest in you NOT being OK. They feed off of drama, discord, and rage. Make peace where and when you can and with whom and then go live your life anyways.

Five: You are not going to be able to change anyone. True story. If you think for one moment you can change others, you will waste too much of your precious time trying. You can share your truth. You can offer to someone what you see, but you cannot make them walk into healing, honest places. You can tell them how they hurt others, or how they have wounded you. You can tell them they are narcissistic or rude.


You can demonstrate the path to wholeness you have traveled and the way to authenticity that worked for you, but they have to:

  • See the need to change.
  • Feel the need to change.
  • Want to change.
  • Be willing to change.

They have to be ABLE. Some people – as much as it hurts – are NOT ABLE to change. They will claim they can do it, but you will be disappointed because they will not know how, or ultimately be able.

Often they will cycle right back into toxic patterns of relating no matter how much information and opportunity you give them.

Some will even refuse to see the need. Sometimes people are stunted, stuck, and blocked and they do not realize it. You can try to help them, but do not spend too much time trying and denying the truth of how they are with you.

Sometimes you will have to let them go. It will hurt, they will probably react in anger, but it will be a necessary step to your own becoming. Don’t YOU become stuck with them. Move forward.

Six: Your boundaries matter. Some people stink at respecting boundaries. This is a truth you should simply try to understand about the world. People will violate your physical space, your mental space, your emotional space, your family space, even your spiritual space. You have to find your own boundaries, your safe place, and the area around you and within you that is a no fly zone for anyone but you. You will then have to do the hard work of enforcing those boundaries as necessary.

Expecting someone else to automatically see what a boundary violation looks like for you – is naïve. Some folks simply do not have their own boundaries let alone the ability to recognize other people’s safe space. They cannot see when they are overstepping and inappropriate. It is your job to make your boundaries lines perfectly clear to others. This will require you using and enforcing your NO…

stop cooperating relationships jkmcguireSeven: Let your “No” be “No;” let your “Yes” be “Yes.” Use your “NO” as a litmus test for healthy relationships. If someone respects your “No” – THEY VALUE YOUR VOICE AND SEPARATENESS (See “Boundaries” by Cloud & Townsend). If your use of a “NO” angers, enrages, causes someone to react violently, manipulatively through nagging, whining, raging, bargaining, or ignoring it all together – be on alert. Be aware. Because your “NO” is the tip of the iceberg of what they are not willing to hear and respect. When someone does not hear your “NO” what they are saying is that they only value your “Yes” – your compliance. People who love us and respect us value our right to a “Yes” or “No.” Use both liberally.

Eight: It is good to have HOPE. Too many in my own generation (think children of the 80s, teens of the 90s) were not shown how to HOPE for ourselves. We were a generation of wandering hopelessness and despair. I do not think that is mutually exclusive to us.

However, I do think it is prevalent for those young people raised in heavily religious environments.

Hope defined by some churched circles leaves its young people feeling narrow, confined, and hopeless. The insistence on living only a certain way, believing only certain things, demonstrating your “faith” with a liberal dose of theatrics and performance, add in a mix of shame and a heavy slathering of fear-based behavioral modification… a whole host of us church kids got to a certain age and were overwhelmed by depression, performance/social anxiety, despair, and a complete lack of hope. Plus seeking help through therapy and medication was a serious NO, NO. If we did not live life a certain way within approved lines, while making our church parents look good – our lives, our futures were without hope.

Perhaps our parents did not know how to HOPE for themselves? Because the HOPE offered to them was shallow and insufficient too? You cannot demonstrate what you do not have. You can not offer light into spaces where you have never tread.

So a whole host of my peers graduated without a substantial HOPE.

We were never taught to HOPE for our futures beyond clearly defined boxes. We were not shown a substantial path of goodness, integrity, trust, and wholehearted authenticity. Many of us were shamed into right behaviors and reactions. Fear was always on the menu. We rarely witnessed the adult around us living from their own HOPE.

I have a friend who had no clue what direction his life was to take once he graduated from high school. He did not know what he was good at, he did not know what made his heart leap and how to pay attention to it. He did not know how to be FOR himself or to celebrate his uniqueness. He reached his late teens believing he would never measure up. He had no dreams for himself and also no aspirations. He could only see what he had been told about himself all his life – you are never going to be good enough UNLESS you follow the directions the “wise grownups” have given, unless you cave to our anxiety and fear about you, unless your life looks like X.

He never saw himself as a husband, father, or person with a specific career. He was not offered the way of HOPE. He wasn’t shown how to hope for himself. So when the spring of his senior year rolled around his father made arrangements for a Saturday morning visit from a military recruiter, image how confused and overwhelmed and defeated his spirit must have been.

I am not sure if this visit was to “inspire him” or “fear him” into making a decision. But he understood this to mean he had no options, but this –  if he didn’t figure it out, grow up already and quickly and make a decision on his own.  My friend stood stoic and quiet without a voiced opinion on the matter – a learned response.  I am not saying military service is not honorable or a good choice what I am saying is that using this method as a fear tactic to get your very young son to “make a decision” about his life – is a horrid parenting move. Respect went out the window. Thankfully my friend did make a choice – a choice that his parents found acceptable. A choice he ended up bombing because it did not fit him because he did not know what fit him, because they did not uncover him and help him to discover who he was/is. He had no hope.

What I know of his life is that he had to find HOPE on his own… he discovered it along the way.HOPE CIRCLE XL

So many kids their senior year of high school – are swallowed by defeat and despair because they never were taught how to hope for themselves. Hope – you can have a good life, you can make the “right” choice and even if you stumble you can pick yourself up and make a new one without the world falling apart. We rest an awful lot of choices and life altering decisions on VERY YOUNG PEOPLE – and expect them to do so without HOPE. Let’s make an intentional response to first offer HOPE.

You can do this… there is HOPE.

Nine: Live a life of celebration – I am not talking drinking till you cannot stand straight, one night stands, Saturday morning walks of shame, or living recklessly. I am talking about living a life of freedom and celebration. Take every opportunity to eat good food, drink good wine/beer/drinks with the umbrellas, travel the world, visit exotic beaches, cross deserts, climb mountains, camp in the wilderness.

Take every chance you get to see, uncover, discover, find and live in AWE. Awe is essential to living a wholehearted, vibrant life.

Learn to cook meals from around the globe. Learn a foreign language – not for academic credit, but for fun. Swim in all the world’s oceans. Drink wine on every continent. Sit with people in their homes – lavish marble to dirt floors.

life overflowing with mission

Forget the short term mission’s trips cheap vacations instead may all of your life be overflowing with mission. May you travel and discover with a hunting heart set on discovering and understanding and seeing the world with Divine eyes.

May your life be a mission of abundant love, compassion, wisdom seeking, Divine hunting, sharing, and laughing out loud.

A life of celebration is abundant in riotous laughter. I want to be known as a woman who laughed loudly and often without apology.

Ten: Find soul mates. Search for people who laugh out loud without fear of being seen, people who sense the sacredness found in all places of this world and life, and then go out into the world together. Find like-minded soul friends and celebrate. Take trips. Meet for dinner. Live in quirky little apartments in weird little neighborhoods with even stranger neighbors. Find your tribe and cherish them always. Be safe though – as a mom – I have to add being careful and smart and aware.

find the source of your pain

Eleven: Find the source of your shame, anxiety, anger, sorrow, and fear because your soul is trying to tell you something important. So often we rush to medicate… medications are good and an acceptable part of healing and becoming whole if you need them. There is NO shame in needing help. BUT also with the medicine find a professional helper to HELP you uncover your triggers, the source. We have been given helpers and healers in this world for a reason. It takes courage to ask for help. Be brave. Find a healer. Pay attention to your heart. It matters. Once you figure out the source of your pain don’t spend time living from out of those places for long. Shame is sneaky so are all her friends: anger, anxiety, fear, and more. Figure out what makes you feel shame and then find ways to let them go. Even if that shame source is a person or people. Let them go. You will waste a whole bunch of your life and energy allowing shame-spreaders or life-suckers to speak harm and hurt and death over your life. They won’t quit. No matter how hard you want them to be different they cannot help doing what they do. It works for them or they would change. I wasted a decade giving the benefit of the doubt and hoping for the best and guess what… nothing changed but ME.

Twelve: LOVE wins…always. In the end of all things how much and how well you have loved is how your life will be defined. It won’t be the grades your received, the awards you collected, how famous you become, how many followers you have, likes you get, how much money you make, the car you drive, or the size and extravagance of your house. All that you will be left with is HOW you have loved.

In the midst of loving others well – make sure that you love yourself first and the most. Self-love and Self-care are NOT selfish. They are essential ingredients to a whole-hearted, well-lived life. YOU cannot give into the lives of others what you yourself do not have. If your well is dry, life becomes stagnate. Fill up your well by loving yourself abundantly.

Figure out what makes your soul overflow and then go do those things. Write, paint, take photographs, dance, read, sit in silence, drink sweet tea, or obscene amounts of coffee. Find a park or a path or a forest or a front porch or a river or a beach or a mountain that speaks to your soul. Find what sings a melody of goodness over your spirit AND VISIT OFTEN. Repeat as much and as often as necessary. Don’t forget. Because you will get busy. Life is now going to be very busy and busy leads to all sorts of things which are not good for your physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being. Feed your soul by figuring out what your soul needs. It matters. It is essential to living fully awake and alive.

Twelve Truths Every Graduate Needs – to be whole, thrive, survive, and HOPE…

What would you add? Leave your truth in the comments.

Happy graduation.


be still and listen to your life jkmcguire

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