Tips and Tricks for Surviving Graduation Season | UMC YoungPeople
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May 2018

Tips and Tricks for Surviving Graduation Season

By Neal Bowes

Graduation time is here! It’s about the biggest deal in the lives of your young charges so far. Since you have worked hard to establish an authentic relationship with each grad, it would be odd for you to not be present for this special occasion. But that is sometimes easier said than done.

Get Tickets or Just Show Up

Often times, we have more than one high school represented in our ministries. Does that mean we have to attend multiple multi-hour graduation ceremonies? To be sure, if you’re going to be at one ceremony, you should be at all of them. The tricky part might be scoring a ticket for the event. Space is often limited and tickets are reserved for immediate family and, sometimes, grandparents. If you plan ahead, there might be a family with an extra ticket you can use. Or, if you have a decent relationship with the school principal, you might get a ticket that way.

If there are no tickets to be had, you can always show up at the end and see your graduates as they come out of the venue. Either way, let them know you’ll be there looking for them. They always hang out for awhile getting pictures with their friends, so be ready for a crazed 45 minutes, waiting your turn for lots of selfies.

What About the Parties?

Your calendar might fill up with graduation party invites, too. In fact, you may have to make a tour of it, stopping in for a few minutes at the first one before you have to move along to the second one and so on. Whatever you decide to do for parties and gifts, be consistent (we give gifts to ALL our seniors at a later time … see below).

Time spent on a nicely written note recounting some special times from youth group, encouraging them on this next leg of their journey, and letting them know you’ll be praying for them and that you’re still available to them might be more appreciated than a Starbucks gift card. And you can mail these notes to anybody from whom you didn’t receive a party invite.

Some communities have a post-grad party. If yours does, they will need volunteers. Offer yourself up.

The Senior Banquet

In our ministry, we have some traditions around graduation. First, the Sunday before Memorial Day, we have our youth group “senior banquet.” It’s a catered meal. We have a nice head table and some great decorations. After we eat, the group members share stories about each of the seniors and the seniors all have an opportunity to share memories, too.

Promotin Sundae!

On Memorial Day weekend, we go into “summer mode.” We move the 8th graders into the high school group and the 5th graders up to middle school. We dispense with the topics and concentrate on playing outside and eating ice cream. This includes the seniors too. We kick off the summer with the seniors building and serving a 10-foot ice cream sundae. They build it in a foil-lined rain gutter. Pro-tip: duct tape the gutter to the table before lining it with foil. I wish I had read that before the first year.

The Gifts

For gifts for our seniors, we’ve gone outside the box. Instead of books or pens or whatever, we have order customized challenge coins. They have our youth group logo on them above the word “alumni.” The ring around the edge has the church name and our city and state. On the back is our blessing that we say in our prayer circle at the end of every meeting, “May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we’re absent, one from the other.” We got them at We had to order 100 of them, but they will keep from year to year. It has become a nice tradition. We tell the graduates that we aren’t expecting them to carry their coins around with them, but we suspect that they will come across them in a sock drawer or jewelry box. We want them to serve as reminders of experiencing God’s love in an authentic Christian community. So, if at that time they are not part of an authentic Christian Community, they should find one to join.

That’s it. They key to survival is to not do everything, but choose those that have the greatest impact with your students so that this season will be meaningful to them and offer you the opportunity to minister to them as they transition into whatever happens post-high school.

Neal has had the privilege of being in ministry with the youth at Jesse Lee for the last 15 years. He also works through the New York Annual Conference to train and support volunteer youth workers in local churches. He loves speaking at youth gatherings--group retreats or conference-wide events.