3 words for the graduates

My small group graduates this weekend. From high school. As in, they’re going to college. We celebrated a few nights ago with a fancy dinner out and then a FroYo dessert. And they surprised me with a scrapbook of our four years together. Stop it.

small group

I can’t talk about it. You guys, they are growing up. But I also am so happy for them and also for me because from now until forever I have 10 hilarious, brilliant, beautiful, and wonderfully weird little sisters.

small group

small groupI wasn’t even supposed to be their leader. The leader who started with them had to back out half way through their freshman year. So I told John I would be willing to “fill in until they found a replacement.”


So here we are, three and a half years later and they are all driving and half of them have boyfriends and none of them have braces anymore. They are beautiful and learning to be independent, but they are also still terrified on the inside and small and wanting to be seen and loved for who they are – the part no one can see.

I’ve written them little notes and we’ve had lots of conversation but nothing I’ve said so far seems adequate compared to what I want to say. And so I’ll take a little space here on the blog to give the best three-word advice I can think of right now.

Go make art.

Make art with the way you live in your house until college starts – the way you hang out with your mom, the way you laugh at your dad instead of roll your eyes, the way you choose to listen to your baby sister who is going to miss you more than she can possibly put into words right now.

Whether you’re taking a gap year to work or travel or spend time with YWAM, make art with how you enter in – not like a tourist who watches from behind a camera lens and insists all of your usual comforts are close at hand. As best you can, enter in to your new situation ready to be creative and make art with the circumstance you are given no matter how crummy it might turn out to be.

If you’re headed off to college, be it close to home or a day away, make art in your dorm room – not just with how you decorate, but with how you exist with your roommate or suite mate or friends. Be curious. Be open. Hold fast to your confidence when you are among many but remember to share your vulnerability when you are among few.

Learn, not just from your professors, but from your classmates. Be slow to judge, slow to speak, slow to anger. Be quick to listen, quick to pray, quick to look for the hope in dark situations.

If at all possible, laugh until you tee tee in your pants.

Bring your giftedness as well as your insecurity with you as you go.

Bring your story, the one you’ve already lived and the one you want to live. You’ll be tempted to leave out the boring or embarrassing parts as you tell it. Don’t. Every bit of it counts.

small group

Practice thankfulness, silence, and discipline.

Don’t light candles in your dorm room or get in cars with strangers.

Don’t forget who you are.

Remember Jesus. Remember family. Remember love.

And be sure to call your mom.

If you had only three words to tell a graduate, what would you say?

Want to explore more of what it might look like to make art with your life? I wrote a book about that. It’s called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. It releases this fall.


  1. says

    Just beautiful! I can feel the love you have for these girls through your words. They are blessed to have YOU as their confidant, mentor, teacher but most of all, friend.

  2. says

    The three words I would give would be go, inspire, and love. Go, whether it’s 1AM for milkshakes, study abroad, or God calling you on a mission trip. Inspire others to love, laugh, and see God’s movement in all circumstances. Love because the ones that need it the most are some of the last ones to admit it. We show love frequently more with our time and less with our words.

    Emily, this was a wonderful post, advice that I wish I had been given, but things I learned along the way.

  3. says

    Oh my Heart… this! I would say this! LOL! I have a Graduate! On Friday – she will walk across a stage, be handed a diploma and my Only – with her Make-Everything-Stay-the-Same heart, will walk out of an era and into a whole new open space! In fact – I attempted to write her a letter today on my blog… but this – Go Make Art! This just says it all! Thank you… (it’s not as if I haven’t been teary eyed enough already?)

  4. says

    Emily, this is absolutely perfect. I’m two years into college and still, this is sure a good reminder for me. Emily’s little sisters? The world is such a big place and no matter where you’re going in it, there’s art to be made. It all comes down to loving much and loving well. Everything in this post is spot on – good job Emily, really good job.

  5. says

    This is a lovely post. Young girls are crying out for mentors who will love them and teach them how to hope. It’s wonderful you were able to engage in their lives and communicate Christ to them in such a beautiful way .
    Just three words… Hmmm I would say, “Always remember mercy.”

  6. says

    I asked two seniors at my church to pretend I’d written this for them. Hope you don’t mind. :)

    I love this advice for graduates, and I’m receiving it for myself in a general way as a post-post-post graduate, too.

  7. says

    Words? All I can do is sit here and cry a bit, as I think about the precious middle school girls I share life with for an hour and a half on Sunday as well as here and there throughout the week. Too soon these years will pass. Thank you for encouraging me to love on and on.

  8. says

    I was just dusting and came across a photo of my small group from 2000-2004. I was with those girls from sixth grade through ninth. Some are now married, some are mamas, some are working, some are in grad school. Hugs to you and your girls as you say your goodbyes. xo

  9. says

    These are the three sets of three words that I gave my daughter at her graduation on Saturday.

    Speak the truth.
    Live the truth.
    Bring the truth (to those who need it).

    I’ll make sure Bre sees this post, Emily. And I pray that she will take your advice and go make art.

    This group of young ladies must feel so blessed to have had you imparting into their lives over the last few years!

  10. says

    This is amazing. I am in tears as I read your post today. Go Make Art…in all you do. I want to read this to my youngest daughter who will be entering her 4th year in college, to my oldest daughter who just got married in January and left home for the first time, to my son who is married and lived a year in Uganda with his beautiful African bride until they could come here. These three little words, I want to share with our youth group, middle and high school. They are each in different stages and walks of life, battling fears and insecurities but all have a common bond of our church and of course JESUS.
    One last thought, I want to live this out myself. I forget sometimes that as a 41 year old wife, mother, grand mother, sister, daughter, auntie, worship leader, teacher that I can make art. Thank you for sharing these 3 Words. Congratulations to all your beautiful graduates. They all shine like new money.

  11. Brittany says

    always call home

    Amazing post. Sometimes its good to be reminded of the things you mentioned even if we are well past “going to college age”

  12. says

    Oh, my heart. My tiny sister graduated and goes to college in the fall. I wrote a brief list of lessons for her but if I summed it up in three words I would say “love it all” – whether its pretty or ugly, wanted or an annoyance, whether it’s a friend or a foe or Jesus or a teacher.

  13. Barb says

    “Go make art” is rather abstract to me. I guess I am just a simple, ordinary senior citizen that has sent 7 kids off into the world and am now sending grandchildren off into the world. I don’t understand “go make art”. But what I have told our kids, and grandkids are things like:

    Walk with God.
    Never leave God out.
    Be a friend.
    Read (the Bible). Pray. Devotions – DAILY!
    Enjoy every moment.
    Keep in touch (with family and friends).
    Do your best.

  14. Mindy Seekford says

    Thi post makes me cry, bc even though I’m 10 yrs older than them, a wife a mother sometimes that high school girl inside me peeks out and remembers. Thanks for sharing this. I think I need this advice even now.
    My only thing to tell them would be to remember no one will ever love you like Jesus. Fall in love with Him, and you are free to love yourself and truly love others.

  15. says

    Mine goes off next year and you made me cry with this. What would I add? Nothing. I’m pretty sure I would say just about everything you said. Those girls have been so incredibly lucky to have you for three and half of the most important shaping years of their lives.

  16. says

    A friend of mine’s mother lives on a different continent. When afraid that political circumstances in her country might explode, she called her daughter to leave her with these words, “Love Jesus Most.” It made me cry.

  17. Christine says

    This is just so… spot on. I have one who graduated college and one who graduated high school last month, and one who has just one year left at home. And she’s my only girl. I cried looking at “your” girls because they could my daughter’s small group; their goofy faces brimming with joy and confidence. My words: live your passion. Don’t settle. Do what God intended you to do.

  18. says

    Is someone missing from these delightful photos? I only count nine (plus beautiful you in the first one). Those are some seriously blessed girls to have had you as their leader these years. Seriously. Several years ago, I was asked to give a ‘last lecture’ to a group of senior high students at a local school. The theme of that talk was contained in this paragraph (sorry, I don’t have 3 words!!):

    “Coming home, finding home – and included with that, helping others to come and find home – that to me is the ultimate human task, our most important assignment, our glorious occupation. Becoming comfortable in your own skin, finding joy in the details of ordinary, everyday life, discovering what makes your spirit soar, what makes you feel like a whole and integrated human person – that’s the goal of this life we live on planet earth. I believe we are created in the mind of God, formed in God’s image, using the DNA input of our biological parents, and that we are designed to live in whole and healthy relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. And to find our way to such wholeness, we have to go through a lot of trail and error, make a ton of mistakes, disappoint others and ourselves from time to time, and learn, learn, learn while we’re doing all of that.”

    There were several thousand additional words in that 45 minute lecture, but this was the heart of it. And I still believe it, with all my heart. Thanks for these wonderful words – we all need them. All of us.

  19. says

    This post blessed me so much, Emily. My daughter is a rising high school junior (not sure how a five year could already be in high school!), but the wisdom that you gave these young women is remarkable. I love the idea that you have focused on: that they have a choice–a choice to live a different way; a choice to see from a different perspective; a choice to be present in the here and now. I will “pocket” this post and send it to my daughter two summers from now (along with any other great advice that you may provide between these years). Thank you.

  20. says

    I don’t have my words in order, except to say YAY for YWAM!

    I was with YWAM for 1.5 years in Australia and am so thankful for my time there. I get so excited when I see other people who’ve been a part of YWAM:)

  21. says

    Well, I think the words GO MAKE ART cannot be topped. Oh, the places they’ll go…and if they will live the art God placed within them in all of those places, these beautiful girls will make such a mark on the world. The other three words that popped into my head are, LET LOVE RULE.

    I’m late to read this post, but I had asked my husband a while back to pray with me because I am feeling a tug to disciple young girls from our church. Before the 4 littles invaded my life (and I mean that in the nicest way possible), I discipled teenage girls and loved it. Yesterday we asked our new youth pastor if they have any needs for leaders, and he said the ONE need they have is for a few women to lead a small group of girls. So then to be reading through your site today and read this, I am going, okay Lord!!! I hear you!!! Thanks for this Emily!!!

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