Photo by Jonathan Daniels
This weekend I had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school students who had just graduated and were heading out on a senior trip with their youth pastor. I’m speaking to them again later today, on their way home from an adventure. It’s been reminding me of my own post-graduation summer, exactly 15 years ago.
I remember the excitement and anxiety about leaving for college. I remember the many “lasts” with my friends. It was the summer I went on my first road trip without my parents or other adults. And it was the summer I went on my first mission trip.
It wasn’t a glamorous mission trip—a small group from my little church learned a cheesy Christian musical and went to the hills of Kentucky to perform it at churches in the evenings. During the days we did service work in the community. But that trip shaped me. It shaped my perceptions of poverty. It shaped my experience of God. It shaped my belief in the significance of serving others over building my resume for professional success.
I think what happens the summer after graduation is significant in part because it’s such a liminal (in-between) period of time. You’re out of one world but not quite yet in another, so by very definition (of anthropologists, anyway), you are in a liminal period, standing on a threshold and waiting to take on a new identity, having given up your old identity but not yet taken on the new. High school graduates know on some level that this is happening, but often have very little guidance with how to live in the in-between world or how to step through the door into post-high-school adulthood.
This is the function of rites of passage-to give shape and meaning to the in-between as well as guidance for stepping into the new identity. Churches are incredibly important communities for utilizing rites of passage, but I think too few of us are capturing the power of the post-grad summer as a period of passage.
I’d love to hear ideas you have for harnessing this summer with your high school grads, whether it’s an event, a series, a set of challenges, or something totally different. So let’s open-source this: What are you doing with the post-grad summer?