Graduation. You've looked forward to this day for years, planned for it, prepared for it. Maybe you're going to have a big party to celebrate. And you should celebrate. It's a milestone in your life, the closest thing our society has to a coming-of-age ceremony.
But with graduation comes a whole new set of decisions to make. You've doubtless been thinking about the big, obvious ones:
Will you go to college or pursue a trade?
Perhaps a priestly or religious vocation?
Where will you go to college?
What job will you take?
But there is another set of decisions—far less obvious but no less important—that you might not have been thinking about.
Which high school friends will you stay in touch with and how will you keep in contact with them?
Whom will you choose as your new friends?
What will your prayer life look like now that your schedule is likely more up to you?
What habits are you going to form?
What will you do in your free time?
This second group of decisions, which are far too often ignored, has more to do with your long-term happiness and success than big obvious choices like where to go to college.
The foundation you lay for your life, the virtues or vices you form now, the way you spend your time, the things you focus on every day: those things will define who you will become as an adult.
If you pick good friends—people who really care about you and want your good—and work to maintain those friendships, they will help you do well in your classes, they will help you be a better person and, ultimately, they will help you become closer to God.
If you commit to daily prayer and spiritual reading now, you will deepen your relationship with God and form a habit that will keep you grounded in times of success and save you from despair in times of struggle and sorrow.
If you commit to spending your free time well, engaging in productive pursuits rather than passive consumption, the benefits are too many to count.
By all means, plan to have fun! But in five years, do you want to look back on hours of binge-watching TikTok videos or scrolling Instagram feeds? Or would you rather look back on the results of hiking with friends; learning how to cook tasty, healthy food; studying a language or an instrument; weightlifting; or gardening? These activities leave lasting results in the form of health, skills acquired, and virtues developed—not to mention profound satisfaction—while passive consumption gives little but momentary pleasure in exchange for your time.
No matter where (or if) you go to college, if you spend your life without friends, far from God, consuming rather than creating, you will get nothing but emptiness.
And no matter where (or if) you go to college, if you spend your life with well-chosen friends, conversing with God and adding value and beauty to the world, you will find fulfillment and happiness.
So if you're graduating this year, take a break from all your big plans and take some time to rethink the seemingly little decisions that really define who you are.
One good habit you will want to keep around is reading good books: the classics of literature, so that you can take part in the Great Conversation of Western culture, and also the lighter books that are fun and uplifting. Not all our well-chosen friends need to be people. Books can also encourage us to practice virtue and make good decisions.
Here are a few books from Catholic Teen Books where characters must decide what to do with their lives:
At the beginning of Heaven's Hunter, Randall Yung is about to graduate from college. The plans he's made for himself have fallen through, and he doesn't like the plans others have made for him. But an idealistic friend helps him find a new direction for his life.
In I Am Margaret by Corinna Turner, despite the fact that Margo's "graduation" doesn't go well---she's declared subhuman and reassigned as spare parts---she still finds she has decisions to make. What will she do with the short time she has left?
In “The Underappreciated Virtues of Green Fingered Monsters” and in “Birthday Secrets,” short stories that can be found in A Saint in the Family, Kyle must decide what to do after graduation—begin a normal adult life or fake his death and travel to the Vatican Free State to test his vocation to the priesthood.
In Leslea Wahl's short story “Grace Among Gangsters,” Luke is stressed about the many decisions he faces regarding his future. But when his grandma shares a story from her childhood, he realizes the answer isn’t as complicated as he thinks it is. Prayer and trust will help lead the way. (short story Coming Soon)
In Summer at West Castle by Theresa Linden, Caitlyn takes a summer job a castle-like house, where she plans to use the solitude and her free time to seek God’s will for her life. But when one of the West brothers returns home, she finds herself tested and challenged to look beneath the surface. One act of mercy puts her on an unexpected path.
Keefe, in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers novel Standing Strong, thinks God might be calling him to a vocation as a Franciscan Brother, but so many things seem to stand in the way of him even attending the discernment retreat. Could this really be God’s will for a guy like him?
Cover photo by Emily Ranquist