My greeting card message for high school grads: It's about to get harder

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This week I went hunting for high school graduation greeting cards. As I browsed options a country mile long, two thoughts hit me like flying mortarboards.

First, what a tough choice. I can either pay for my kids’ college, or I can buy this overpriced singing pop-up card that’s heavier than a gold brick. Which is appropriate, I suppose, because that's how much it cost.

My second thought was how many of the messages were shallow and unrealistic. The sweet and sentimental cards read like an industrial-sized tub of cupcake frosting.

While the card writers meant well and may have test-marketed and focus-grouped every word, I stood there thinking that what grads really need is the truth.

So, instead of a canned message, I bought a blank card and began to write.

Dear Grad,

Congratulations! You survived four of the easiest years of your life. Slow clap for you.

I know, I know. You think they were tough. You believe staying up until 2 a.m. studying for that chemistry final is the hardest thing you'll ever do.

Guess what? It won’t be long before you're up at 2 a.m. with a colicky baby wishing you could be 18 again at the kitchen table with a Mountain Dew and a calculator.

And that girl who broke your heart just before prom? Or at prom? Or the day after prom? Compared to what awaits, that's a stroll in the park with “Journey's Greatest Hits” playing on your Walkman.

Life's about to get a lot harder.

Hannah from history class is nothing compared to the heartache that lurks as you search for the one you'll spend your life with — and not just the one you'll “talk to” for three wonderful weeks before breaking up for the new girl from homeroom.

Speaking of home -- those stifling mom and dad rules you despised? Say thanks, because if you're reading this, those rules probably saved you.

Soon, you'll be writing your own rulebook and playing by even stricter rules in college and the workforce. Show up late for Sunday dinner and your mom is disappointed, but forgiving. Show up late for another day of work and your boss doesn't bother to be disappointed. There are 10 other people who’d love your job and won't stay up all night binge watching all 236 episodes of “Friends”.

Yep, life's about to get a lot harder.

Remember that teacher you didn't like? The bus driver you thought was rude? That bully on the basketball team?

They might as well be pastors at your church compared to the personalities waiting around the corner. You're entering a competitive world where you can't complain to your guidance counselor every time you want a schedule change. And life doesn’t just hand out A’s.

Believe it or not, your teachers, while not perfect, did their best because they cared about you and your future. Your resident assistant at your soon-to-be dorm? Your supervisor at your first real job? They’re probably more concerned with their own future than yours. Plus, whatever excuse you've got, they've heard a better one.

Uplifting, isn't it?

Your new world is just waiting to knock you over and there won’t often be someone lending a hand to stand back up. So when someone does, be gracious and grateful and remember to return the favor.

Here’s the good news. While it’s true you’re speeding toward thousands of adult-sized hurdles, there are even more opportunities to do something amazing.

Your credit is good, your knees are good and your back is strong.

Go get to work.

Go find a way to contribute every single day. And when you close your eyes each night, remember that if the only person you served that day was yourself, you failed. Just get up the next day and be a little better.

It’s worth saying again. Life's about to get a lot harder. But with challenges come opportunities to do good.

To be good.

To make other people feel good.

And that, my brand new grad, is what will define your life much more than mortarboards and paychecks.

Happy graduation.