Top Three Things NOT to Wish a Graduate

1. Congratulations on going to college. Education is the key to success. 
Of course, this depends on what you mean by “success.” A college education probably will enable you to get a higher paying job. But if by “success” you mean a “happy life” it will not guarantee you that. We have this on the authority of both Jesus and Harvard. In 1938 Harvard commissioned the Grant Study to answer the question, “What does it take to live a happy life—a life of human flourishing?” 

A faculty team of doctors, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and psychiatrists followed 268 of the brightest and best and most well-adjusted Harvard sophomores (including JFK) for 75 years to document the scientific answer. 
I reviewed their findings in more detail in one of my most popular blogs (To Grads, From Harvard and Dallas Willard: How To Lead a Successful Life).  But basically it’s this: Relationships bring the most happiness. More than money, fame or job achievement/satisfaction.
Which is why Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:35-39). He knew long before the Harvard study that this will bring us the most joy in life and always has our best interests at heart. He also knows that we need the gospel–the life of blessing and forgiveness we receive when we trust him for salvation–in order to fully experience the joy of loving God and people well.
In my previous post, I quoted my radio interview with Willard where we discussed the Grant study. Dallas pointed out that “not just any relationship brings happiness. Even a mugger has a certain relationship with his victim. The key to happiness is good relationships.”
And yet, as Dallas also pointed out, our schools and Universities rarely teach this subject. There is no Department of Goodness or  Human Flourishing. No course on Being a Good Person. (Who would teach it?)
So graduates, congratulations on going to college. Loving well is the key to success. Find out as much about loving and how to be a good person with good relationships as you can. Become a student of community, friendship and good marriages. Learn from good literature, the Bible and Jesus, the greatest expert. The rest is secondary.
2. Congratulations, graduate. Follow your passion.
Or, as Steve Jobs said in a 2005 commencement address he gave, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” 
In a 2013 commencement address at Sewanee David Brooks told the graduates, “Commencement speakers are always telling you to find your passion. This is the biggest load of c— old people have ever foisted on the young. No, you will not find your passion. Your passion will find you. Relax and wait for it.” 
That was certainly my experience. As a young teacher I was intent on passing on to my students the same trick-or-treat bag of academic goodies I had collected from the different departments of my University: Spanish, English and Speech Communication. 
One fall Christian worldview apologist Francis Schaeffer brought his How Shall We Then Live? book and film series to town and changed my life. 
My whole trick-or-treat bag of college courses began to make sense. I finally understood the larger story—the ideas and people that have shaped the world. The ones that inform us about origins, reality, morality, meaning and destiny.
I realized that the more the West lived out the teaching of Jesus and a Christian worldview the more we prospered and built the greatest civilization the world has known. The more we have departed from it the more moral corruption and strife have marked our lives. The more our culture has declined.
I thought Wow! Our students, most of whom will attend public Universities, need to hear this before they go off to college. So I pioneered teaching them a Christian worldview from Schaeffer’s films and book, still included in the Trinity Christian Academy curriculum today.
And that’s how I discovered a passion for something that wasn’t even on my college radar. I love teaching worldview and culture because everything—politics, pop culture, home decorating, business, law, fashion, education, music, art, media—everything flows downstream from worldview.
So congratulations graduates. Find that place where the world’s need and your gifts meet. The needs are everywhere. They will plop right into your lap. Just start serving. Do that and your passion will find you.
3.  Congratulations, graduate. Follow your dreams*.
Actually this can be a good graduation wish, bit it needs an asterick. According to Bill Damon, one of the world's leading researchers of human development and author of The Path to Purpose, "legions of top high school students" dream of being an actor, an NFL/NBA/MLB player or a rock star. 
According to NCAA statistics only .03% of high school basketball players make it to the NBA. Football’s a little better at .08%. Even the bench warmers in MLB are far finer athletes than you or I have probably ever known or played with. 
The Screen Actors’ Guild tells us that about 2% of aspiring actors can make a living at it. It’s about the same for musicians.
As for the dreamers who want to give their lives to a noble cause political humorist P.J. O’Rourke has this advice: “Don’t be an idealist.”
“Don't chain yourself to a redwood tree. Go be a corporate lawyer and make $500,000 a year. If you make $500,000 a year, no matter how much you try to cheat the IRS, you'll end up paying $100,000 in taxes—property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes. That's $100,000 worth of schools and sewers, fire fighters and police. You'll be doing good for society. Does chaining yourself to a redwood tree do society $100,000 worth of good?”
So congratulations, graduate. And when choosing a major or dreaming a dream…check the stats. If you want to change the world…dream radical dreams of bringing God's kingdom into your sphere of influence. You WILL make a difference. And you'll receive the highest honor of all: "Well Done."

Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.


  • Patty LaRoche


    Thought provoking.  Well written.  Filled with good advice.  You did well, my friend…exceedingly well.  I loved it.

  • David JP


    I am a pastor from myanmar.Coz of your article,i had decided to go to university for know what is real graduated  on our lives forever.