Graduating With More Than a Diploma


Many live those four years for the degree, the piece of paper, thinking that turning the tassel is synonymous with turning into an adult. The thing is, college graduation doesn’t necessarily usher in adulthood. It’s not that easy. Learning doesn’t stop there. What it does do is open the door to the real world, the world of responsibility, independence, life, family, children, diapers, commutes, and relationships that are super hard because you don’t see everyone in your sorority or fraternity or campus organization three times a week.

Wisdom and maturity aren’t automatic results with every passing year. They take hard, diligent work. You see, the work that happens after you get your diploma is not simply what you do for your career for 8-9 hours a day. It’s work to keep up with friends and it’s work to be disciplined, to be motivated, to be involved, and to maintain all that’s coming at you. I started thinking about all this when recently a young college sophomore asked me this question:

What advice would you give me for my time in college? What would you encourage me to do?

I’ve had the blessing of serving college students now for 8 years. Looking back through the years, while at the same time processing current relationships with students that are very dear to me, I was able to answer his question and give him some of what I hope was encouragement. The following thoughts are the results of processing such a huge question, as well as looking back on my own time in college and the things I didn’t learn and didn’t practice. Life came at me hard in the years after college and I know 99.9% of that is because of not learning certain habits and practices that the Scripture makes clear.


1. Find Friends to be Surgeons

No, I am not saying go into the medical program and seek out only friends that are planning to be doctors. What I do mean is find friends who will be there to call you out and love you through the process of working on your issues. Find friends that will say yes when you ask them to correct you and be a voice of rebuke when it comes to helping you become more conformed into the image of Christ. Find friends that will spur you on, encourage you, but also not be afraid to give you a strong word of reproof or correction. Tim Keller says a true friend is like a great surgeon, the only cuts they make are ones done in order to heal you, not harm you. Find these friends. You need these friends. You need friends that care enough about you, love you so incredibly deeply, that they will offer you a firm word because they care about your soul and your well-being more than they care about you getting mad at them temporarily or having a brief uncomfortable conversation.

You need others to help you in your battle against sin. Paul Tripp says where we are blind to our own areas of sin others have 20/20 vision. Oh how true that is. It is to our benefit we start now finding and inviting friends to be those eyes for us. Learning to humbly receive criticism will greatly shape your career, as well as your marriage.

It’s humbling when we learn because learning always puts us in the lower seat.

Scripture assures us that we can trust the wounds inflicted from friends. It’s flattery we shouldn’t pay attention to. You see, an enemy cares about our weaknesses to have victory over us, to defeat us, and to see us made out to be a fool. However, a friend cares about our weaknesses so that Christ would have victory in us. That’s what we need. Trust God’s Word. Rest in it.


2. Put Yourself on the Shelf

You’re on campus and in your classes to learn, not to teach, so do that. Grab the books off the shelf, and the elf too if he’s still up there, and put your pride up in their place. Use your years to learn. This sounds simple but it’s not as easy as it sounds because it takes humility to learn. It takes a humble spirit to admit that you don’t know everything. It’s humbling when we learn because learning always puts us in the lower seat. If we’re learning, it means someone is teaching, and we don’t like that. We want to teach. We want the power. We want the respect. That’s pride in us. We need to practice humility and practice shelving our egos and our stubbornness and our belief that we’ve arrived in order to let someone teach us. Proverbs 18 is safe guideline. It warns against those who refuse learning in order to express only their opinion and seek only their pleasures. This is a dangerous and unhealthy way to live. A teachable spirit is a wonderful thing. Begin asking the Spirit to cultivate that in you.

Yes, college is about our future, but it’s more than the classes we’re in and our intended major and minor. Our learning is not just about the grades for the semester and in the same way our future is dictated by much more than just those. Our learning is about shaping us into the men and women we are becoming, and we need to make sure we’re practicing now, creating discipline now, for the future. We won’t arrive where we need to be, where God is calling us, accidentally. Proverbs 19 encourages us to listen to wisdom and instruction now in order that we gain wisdom in the future. Which leads to the last note of encouragement.


3. Intentionally, Not Accidentally

Be intentional. Be intentional. Be intentional. I can’t say this enough. From all the different kinds of ships – friendship, worship, discipleship – it all happens when we are intentional, never by accident. Friendships are hard and they take a lot of work. And you’re going to need and want the kind of friendships that last and those that weather the storms. These are friendships that are worked on and invested in intentionally. You aren’t going to become best friends by accident. You become great friends through fighting, resolving conflict, experiencing sorrow together, disappointment, joy, advances, as well as setbacks. This takes intentionality through all seasons, making sure you’re growing together and making time for others in your life. The seed of friendship is planted intentionally and for it to grow it takes watering and pruning, watering and pruning, watering and pruning. Those things are not done by accident, so be active, not passive.

Friendship, worship, and discipleship happen via intentionality. They don’t happen by accident.

The same is true for our worship of Christ. This takes work and our sanctification isn’t going to happen by accident. James is clear that our works don’t bring us to salvation, but our lives and how we live them are displays of whether salvation has truly occurred in us. This is growth in godliness. Our conformity to Christ happens by the Spirit moving in us and us submitting to his work. And that takes effort on our part. Spiritual discipline is always intentional.

Learn intentionality in all areas of your life. Learn it early. Be intentional to find friends that will prune you and grow you in Christ. Be intentional to put your pride aside daily in order to learn and receive wisdom and instruction. Be intentional about investment in your surrounding community of friends and your church body. And most of all, be intentional about abiding in Christ and believing God’s Word.

The years of college are a gracious gift. Use them to learn. Use them to grow. Use them for the gain of godliness.


Jonathan C. Edwards (@NotThePuritan)

Jonathan (M.Div, Th.M) is the founder & CEO of Peel, a social media startup directed at redeeming the value of social media in everyday life. He is the author of "Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves," available now!

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