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Offering some advice to our graduates

Fifteen years later, I can still remember the feelings: a varied mix of exhilaration, relief, hope and accomplishment. Gathered with friends and classmates, all of us dressed in black tuxedos, I sat on stage at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans as the curtain pulled back and my high school commencement activities began.

Four years later, under a partly cloudy sky on the historic Avenue of the Oaks here in Mobile, those emotions returned on a heightened level. With my family looking on, I walked across the stage and graduated from Spring Hill College.

The month of May annually brings about beginnings and endings, most displayed through promotion and graduation season whether it is elementary school, high school or college. Young people will mark the end of one season while embarking on new paths. Their families will celebrate, pray and accompany them through life’s great transitions.

Our three Catholic high schools will graduate hundreds of young people, instilled with Gospel values and propelled by the Holy Spirit. Excitedly, St. Michael Catholic High School will celebrate graduation for their historic first class of seniors, those young people who pioneered and opened the school as sophomores just three years ago. When we include our Catholic teens graduating from public, private, and home schools, it’s safe to say that we are “casting out” a multitude of young leaders who strive to be saints.

I’ve had the tremendous blessing and privilege to accompany many of these young people, whether it’s at large events like ACYC or the March for Life or at their parish youth ministry gatherings. Over their high school years, we have eaten together, laughed together, cried together and prayed together.

It’s also been a great opportunity to accompany many young adults who will graduate college this year, whether from Spring Hill, South Alabama, Troy or Auburn. These young people assisted in our ministry events, shared the Gospel with young people and inspired adults like me with their youthful energy and love for Jesus Christ.

If I could gather them all in one place, as they smile from ear to ear in their cap and gowns, what would I say? What advice or inspiration could I share?

First, don’t ever forget that you are unique, unrepeatable, and unconditionally loved by God. You’ll experience joys and struggles as you embark on the next adventure. You’ll be challenged by peers, pushed to accomplish more with less, backed into more corners than you thought possible.

Take courage that the Lord will see you through all that. The Merciful Father will embrace you with open arms if you turn towards him while turning away from sin. Mistakes will happen and some choices will be poor; you have the strength to get back up again. As it is written in the letter to the Hebrews, “do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and possess life.” (Hebrews 10:35, 39)

Second, recognize that you have a team and to be a strong contributor on other teams. While some prefer the notion that “it takes a village,” I like the imagery of a team and will often say “team (insert name here).” Who is a part of your team? Parents, teachers, coaches, priests and youth ministry leaders – the list can go on. Some people on your team have been with you from birth, while some are recent additions.

This is a good time to grow your team. For our young people headed to college, the campus ministry programs and missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) can be dynamic and uplifting. Our diocese partners with the Newman Connection, an organization that connects graduating seniors with their college campus ministry, sometimes even before they step on campus in the fall. I found that my college years were significantly better when I surrounded myself with positive friends who would keep me accountable and on the path to holiness.

Your team will be there for you, but you can be a valuable part of other people’s teams. Invite a friend to go to a Bible study or daily Mass with you. Greet a classmate with a smile. For those graduating college, discern spending time as missionaries in service groups like FOCUS, NET Ministries, Jesuit Volunteer Corps or the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

Finally, take these words of Pope Francis to heart: “Christ is alive and He wants you to be alive!” (CV 1) It’s probably a good idea to read “Christus Vivit” in its entirety, but these words from its opening should be plastered to a mirror, locker, laptop, wherever you can see it and be reminded of it. You have one life – live it to the full. Christ is alive and wants you to be fully alive with Him, through a personal relationship with Him. Recognize that it is the Lord who guides, sustains and comforts you.

Best wishes to our graduates, and to the families who saw them through it. May the risen Christ bring His peace to all those taking the next “leap of faith.”

— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at aganucheau@mobarch.org

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