College graduates throwing their cap in the air

Graduate From Surviving to Thriving

It’s that time of year where we send off our friends and family into new chapters of life – graduation. Holmes Murphy Director of Educational Initiatives, Fraternal Dr. Lori Hart shares key factors for thriving college students.
Lori Hart, PhD
Lori Hart, PhD
Director of Educational Initiatives, Fraternal

You may recall hearing the song “Pomp and Circumstance” at the various graduations in your life. Take a moment and quietly hum it as the memories of those important moments rise to the top of your mind. It’s a classic for a reason!

The month of May is full of graduation rituals. Perhaps, like me, you have a child or family member graduating; or maybe those announcements are hitting your mailbox now, and you’re wondering what new grads want other than money. Spoiler alert – just give them money; they don’t need more towels with embroidered initials.

As a parent of a high school senior, I have been pleasantly surprised by my social calendar and fun experiences this year. I have grown as a person and made new friends with other senior parents walking the same path. It’s been a good reminder that growth doesn’t just happen for young people – it happens for all people throughout the stages of our lives.

I have also learned that letting go is the hardest part of life. Letting go happens in all areas of our lives: losing a family member or pet, saying goodbye to a trusted colleague at work, watching a child go to college, etc. But even in these moments of sadness, it’s been important for me to realize that the only way to move forward in life is to let go.

Support Empowers Us to Chase Our Dreams

In relationships, letting go can be transformative, even when it’s hard. I recently reconnected with a hometown friend, Shannon Gilreath, who went on to become a U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral. I remember Shannon as a tall and kind trumpeter, and now he has become a key leader for the Coast Guard following the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in March of this year.

I had the opportunity to connect with Shannon in the last year as my son pursues a path in the military. No matter how long you’ve been gone, the people from your small town remain your “family,” and that proved true as we navigated the college process. Shannon’s mom, Anita, reached out to me and shared these words of advice as I prepared to let go of my son as he begins this new chapter of his life.

I look forward to hearing what the future holds for your family! Enjoy the ride. From one mom to another, when your children are happy, your heart will smile. There will be days when neither of you will be happy, just be supportive and keep loving them, and eventually the tide will turn. However, I have already walked the path you will walk in a few months. I just want to say that you will survive the heartaches with prayer, lots of love, and support for your son.” 

The world needs more leaders like Shannon Gilreath – imagine a world where his mom had not let go of her son so he could figure out who he was or who he would become. It is a parent’s biggest gift, releasing our children so they can go change the world.

Survive and Thrive at Any Stage of Life

The 2023 Thriving College Student Survey, conducted in the U.S. the fall of 2023, surveyed 24,791 residential college students who identified behaviors they believed help students thrive. When it came to behaviors that support mental health, the students reported that “thriving” students would engage with the following behaviors:

  • Socializing
  • Spending time outside
  • Getting good sleep
  • Exercising
  • Eating healthy
  • Engaging with their faith

While these behaviors might seem obvious, I know I’m guilty of not always making them a priority. Thriving is a goal all of us can strive for, one that helps us live our best life and move towards a bright future.

As I looked at the list, I thought about becoming a new mom 18 years ago. So many feelings came rushing back to me, but I also thought about how I survived – though not exactly thrived – during those first years, I made new friends who had babies and people who were in the same stage of life as me. I walked every day with my son in his stroller. I slept when he slept. I tried to exercise and eat healthy, and I went to church (maybe some days I went to drop him off in the nursery to have an hour of free time, but I was surviving, remember?). The irony is that these simple behaviors are what we all need, whether we’re new parents, employees, college students, or anyone letting go and transitioning in their own life.

Now, back to the “Pomp and Circumstance.” Never has a song evoked so much emotion for me. It takes me back to 1988 when I walked across a high school stage and left home with hopes, dreams, and aspirations. In a few weeks when they call my son’s name, I know he will walk on the stage alone, but in that body is also 18 years of education, faith, experiences, friends, family, and morals that will be part of who he is for the rest of this life. We are never truly alone, and letting go so those we love – ourselves included – can thrive, makes life that much more special.

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