Graduating to be Freshmen

Graduating to be Freshmen

By: Stacey Tuttle

This time of year finds my mailbox full of graduation notices. Children I used to babysit, kids I used to tutor, friends I’ve mentored… graduating from high school, from college or just from one stage of life into another as they become spouses, parents, empty-nesters, etc. Graduation makes me think of being a senior but it also makes me think of being a freshman. Graduation means you are about to give up your status as top dog on campus and start all over again.

I think it’s easiest to see this in high schoolers. When I was a senior in high school my world consisted of people younger than me (all those younger-class men), and adults: my parents, teachers, friends’ parents, etc. Of course, there were my peers as well, but they were in the same boat as I was. We all seemed to feel that the next step in life was responsible, mature adult-hood. We kind of missed the fact that there was a lot to learn, a lot of life, in between high school and adult-hood. And anyone who might have enlightened us to that fact was pretty well missing from our world. College students were off at college. For all I knew, they were the same as adults—I mean, weren’t they off living on their own just like an adult? And while I’m sure there were some young professionals and singles in my church, they largely circulated in a different social realm from my family. Not to say we didn’t know each other, but to say there wasn’t a deep enough relationship to help me see that they were possibly part of a middle realm of maturity—that middle realm which I, in all my seniorly wisdom, felt I would leap over in a single bound as I graced adult-hood with my presence.

I realize not everyone is this naïve as a senior, but I also know that I was not, am not, the only one who has ever been this way. I see it all the time. Seniors have a tendency to be a little cocky and confident—they have just proven themselves in academia and in life as they know it. They know more than all those underclassmen below them both in education and in experience. That extra year of high school (i.e. the one more year than the juniors below them) has given them a wealth of experience to advance them beyond their current state and into the next: they are now ready for college.

College is an eye opener. Suddenly you are engulfed in a sea of other in-betweeners. Suddenly you are starting over….you are a freshmen again. You are in harder classes and no longer know it all. You are inexperienced and awkward. You aren’t the big fish in a small pond anymore – now you’re a small fish in a very BIG pond. Suddenly you are aware that high school didn’t prepare you to be a full-fledged adult, it prepared you to be a college student. It’s not that you were really a know-it-all before, but that you honestly didn’t know what you didn’t know. Graduation, while it congratulates you for what you DO know, also has a way of knocking you down a notch as you start over, reminding you that there is still much more TO know.

I know it sounds naïve, but college was the first time I realized that adult-hood / maturity was not a destination I would suddenly arrive at, but something I would be journeying towards for the rest of my life. And that life would be a series of starting over. Just about the time I think I have something figured out, I get round two and realize I am still just a freshman—an awkward, clueless, naïve freshman. How many parents are nervous about having a baby, only to find it wasn’t that hard. In fact, baby number one went so smoothly they are sure they have it down and are great parents. They don’t understand why the Johnson’s next door are having such a hard time with their kids. And then, they have baby number two—and they realize that they are only freshmen. They are not the parenting experts they thought they were; they just had it pretty easy with baby number one.

I think this process of becoming freshmen over and over again is actually one of God’s graces to us. Can you imagine if the world was completely full of people who, once they graduated never started over as a freshman again? What if the world was full of people with that often naïve and over-confident high school senior mentality? It would be a proud and uncompromising world, to be sure. More than that though, I think it would rob us of our awareness of how much we need the Lord.
Think about a few of the differences between say a high school senior and a college freshman. A senior has his set group of friends (and is sometimes cruel to those outside that group); a freshman is desperate to make friends with anyone. A senior can be condescending while a freshman is eager for help. A senior knows his way around and knows all the ins and outs, but a freshman knows they need help to navigate their new world. Seniors are bored and antsy, disengaged, anxious for what’s next. Freshmen are overwhelmed and hanging on for dear life but they are engaged and focused on the here and now.

I Corinthians 10:12 says that if you think you are standing firm, you ought to be careful lest you should fall. I think we are most in danger of thinking we are standing firm we are in a “senior” stage in our life. I think freshmen are often very aware that they might fall. I had heard how difficult college would be. I was terrified I might bomb a test. I was wary of gaining the “freshmen fifteen.” I knew the stories of kids who weren’t responsible enough to make their 8:00 classes. In fact, those things I guarded against as a freshmen weren’t a problem that freshmen year…they were a problem my senior year. It was my senior year when I got a little bit over confident and thought to myself that I had been standing so firm, I had this so licked, there was no worry, no danger.

I truly believe that the enemy (whether that enemy be Satan, his servants, or simply our own flesh and nature) is ever tempting us to think we are standing firm as seniors. And I think God keeps trying to remind us we are just freshmen. He wants us to have that fresh dependency on him. That clean slate that comes with a new start. The uncertainty of being a little lost and a little overwhelmed. That healthy fear that we might succumb to the pitfalls that we have heard of and seen others stumble into—the fear that drives us to Him for wisdom, protection, provision, understanding and knowledge.

Authors note: Please do not think that I am railing on seniors or elevating freshmen. I realize I have made some broad generalities and they do not apply to all. I primarily speak from a point of humility about things I saw (and still see) in my own self. Just to clear the record, high school seniors are one of my most favorite groups to interact with. I also realize that freshmen, by the very nature of being a freshman, have a lot of ignorance and the point is that they move on to maturity and towards being a senior. Freshmen should not stay freshmen forever. They are to mature and become seniors. Just as seniors should not stop at being seniors either—nor is life inclined to let them. They are supposed to go on to the next level and start again, as a freshman. A freshman at the next level. The point is that, as we work toward the knowledge and maturity of a senior, we would do well to cultivate some of the attitude, vulnerability and humility of the freshman.