Graduation from high school and college are huge milestones. The graduate has put in long hours working, not only on school work, but also on themselves, growing, figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Myriad decisions have been made daily, what club or activity to join: is it music or soccer, Model UN or tutoring kids after school? They’ve sorted out what class to take and wondered what’s the next step? Throughout, they have developed into an adult and now they will be off on their own.

What if you could give them something tangible that would make them see and feel all the love you have for them, the ways you admire and encourage them and let them hear your voice when they need it the most? You can do just that by writing them a Legacy Letter as a graduation present.

What if you could add the voices of others who love and care for your graduate to your voice? What if you could collect multiple Legacy Letters and put them into a binder or a book for them to take with them. Imagine your son, niece, godchild needing a boost before a test or big presentation at work and reading a letter reminding them of their grit. Or, imagine that in a moment of homesickness or after a bad day, they could feel you close by, reading your expressions of love.

How a Legacy Letter Touches Many Lives

Our eldest son, Matt, graduated from college several years ago. As a graduation present our family gave him a book of Legacy Letters. My husband and I, his siblings and his grandparents each wrote a Legacy Letter reflecting on his journey and what we hoped for him as he moved across the country to his new apartment and new job. We used one of those photo book services to add pictures from his life—from little baby to graduate—to the letters.

The graduation book helped us to mark a major milestone — his graduation from college. But just as important it gave us the opportunity to recognize and name the values and wisdom we saw and admired in our son, grandson and brother and to encourage him to stay true to himself as he ventured out into the world.

My expectation was that Matt would thank us and then put the book in a closet. Yet visiting him several months later I was pleasantly surprised to find the book on top of his bureau in a place of honor. But even more gratifying is reading the Legacy Letters Matt has written since to help send his little brother off on a semester abroad and for his 18th birthday, for grandparent’s birthdays, for our 30th anniversary and more. The impact of receiving the love in that book is evident.

The experience for all of us was amazing. Not only did I get to reflect to Matt how I saw him, what I love about him and hoped for him, I got to read the amazing letters from the rest of the family. Collectively they painted a picture of a man we were, and still are, so proud of and love so much.

How to Start Writing a Legacy Letter?

Think about the person you are writing to. Take time to picture them, flip through memories and stories about them. What do you admire about them? What do you love about them? Keep this in mind and ask yourself these questions:

How do I want the reader to feel?

How do I want to feel when my recipient reads the letter?

What do I want to say or share? What values, wisdom, traditions and love do I want to share? (Spend some time with this question. What values do you already see in the recipient? What values do you want them to bring to the world? What have you learned that may help them make their way? What traditions have you shared—how will you maintain them? How do you feel about the person? How does your love feel and get expressed.)

What stories can I think of that illustrate those values, wisdom, traditions and love? For example:

I loved watching you in your last season of basketball, the way you never gave up and left everything on the court even as your team struggled. You led by example and your teammates responded to that. I admire your leadership and tenacity and these skills will serve you well in both good times and times when you might struggle.

Tell the stories. Then tell why you chose those stories, why they are important. Maybe you choose to tell the story about how your daughter wanted to be a dinosaur for Halloween when she was ten and all her friends were being people and wearing costumes that passed more for clothes. This isn’t just a “Remember when …” moment though. That story means something. When you tell that story, you tell her that you want to remind her that she is brave. She did what she wanted to do—even though everyone else was doing something else. Remind her to follow her own heart, to stand her own ground, and to have fun. The stories you pick have a reason.

Finally, share your love.

You don’t have to create a fancy book like we did. You can print out your letter on fine paper or handwrite it on beautiful stationery. You can partner with others or just write your own words. However you do it, you will create a powerful gift that will last much longer than a gift card.

Legacy letters last a lifetime and help you express just how much you care for the people in your life. I invite you to grab a copy of Deepening Connections with Legacy Letters where I show you how to craft one from the heart.