The Right Message at the Right Time: How to Help High School Graduates Build Upon Their Success

A high school graduate hugging her mom

The young men and women who will march across stages nationwide to receive their high school diplomas this spring are often described as adventurous, self-motivated achievers who are ready to change the world.     

And, while high school recognizes their achievements and opens doors to independence and possibilities, graduation also can kindle thoughts of life’s challenges beyond the familiar and comfortable structure of home and school.  

Roberta Katz, the senior research scholar at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, describes graduates as a self-driven, deeply caring, highly collaborative social group. They grew up online and in a global culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion. They value relevance and authenticity. 

It is impossible to know what the future holds for this year’s graduates, but here are some topics along with inspirational quotes to write in their graduation cards that will help you inspire any grad to change the world.  

Be an Advocate for Others 

Recognize that over the course of their high school careers, grads have attained a worldview that advocates for human rights, creating and connecting effective networks for change, and making the world a better place. 

Treat Everyone Equally

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader 

No name is more synonymous with equal rights than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As Dr. King challenged the nation to rise up in support of equal rights, high school taught grads to see themselves and others within the context of the world and inspired them to continue the legacy of Dr. King’s vision. 

Help Build Diverse Communities 

“We will all profit from a more diverse, inclusive society, understanding, accommodating, even celebrating our differences, while pulling together for the common good.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States 

As members of the most diverse and inclusive generation in American history, graduates believe in Justice Ginsburg’s vision. A word of encouragement can put them on the path toward the just world she helped pioneer. 

Follow Your Passion 

This year’s graduates are the country’s first digital natives. They came of age in a world where the Internet has made all things possible. Many started small online businesses. Stepping into the world, most see themselves in careers that are rooted in the things they love to do. 

Pursue Your Dreams with Confidence 

“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” – Nelson Mandela, civil rights leader 

Before graduates take on the future, help them reflect on all that they have accomplished. Encourage them to take what they’ve learned and go forward with confidence. 

Persevere with Optimism 

“I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.”  – Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States 

The future is uncertain. But this year’s graduates are naturally optimistic. They learned how to persist in high school. Now, challenge them to rely on those qualities to realize their dreams. 

Meet Challenges Head On 

"It may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”Maya Angelou, poet 

Life beyond high school will have its challenges, but Maya Angelou’s inspirational wisdom can help graduates overcome those challenges so that they can discover their true selves.   

Encourage Reflection So That Graduates Can Build Upon Their Achievements 

Now is the time for graduates to celebrate their accomplishments. High school was full of challenges, but they persisted and rose above them. Their diplomas prove that. They learned new things about the world and about themselves. They deepened their commitment to inclusion, to the importance of authenticity, and to the possibilities of making the world a better place. 

Now is also the time to encourage them to take what they have learned as they move forward. Whatever plans your graduate has for their future—whether it be college, work, or a gap year—an authentic, relevant message at this important time can inspire them to build upon the success of their high school experience. 

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