College Graduation and the Parenthood Abyss

Mary Dell writes: My son, our eldest child, will celebrate his college graduation this weekend. Today, while I sit in the kitchen, I read the fine words of another mom whose child recently graduated. I begin to imagine the moment when our son’s name is called and he walks onto the stage to receive his diploma. I feel a familiar maternal adrenaline rush beginning to rise and recognize it as the same one I have felt every time I waited for my child to stride onto a stage or take his place at home plate.  But I also sense a new ingredient. After the ceremony concludes and we drive back home, he will no longer be our “school child.”  Exactly what will replace that two-decade long identity takes me to the edge of a parental abyss.

college graduation, schoolhouse, school, college

No longer will his schedule, and ours with him, be dictated by a calendar of September- May. The school schedule, with its rock-solid predictability, provided the foundation on which his life in the classroom and the sports field was built. For three months each summer, the structure relaxed but sprang back to life in the final days of August. Then, before the first class began, we bought new school clothes (last year’s were always too small, too short) and new supplies to load into a crumb-free backpack. The obligatory first day of school photos now fill our albums, shoeboxes and flash drives.

After Sunday’s college graduation, we will begin a new era with our son.  We will place graduation photos in last pages in his childhood photo album, close it and put it away.

What is unchanging, of course, is my unending love for him as mother and son. My pride and excitement on the eve of college graduation are at an all-time high. But “child,” was a label he began to outgrow when he graduated from high school. Soon “student” will no longer fit. In their place will come other ways I will think of him as he takes his first job, moves into a first apartment, and someday, I hope, finds someone he loves enough to marry and becomes a parent, himself.

But in the meantime, until he grows into all of those much more adult monikers, I stand at a parenting edge, waiting for his name to be called.


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  1. says

    What a beautiful post Mary. It will be a wonderful moment. I will never forget how I felt, when Matt graduated. When they walked in, for the first time ever at any function, he walked right past me. I am very reserved in public, yet that day I found myself on my feet, overwhelmed and overcome by the moment. I can tell you this from the other side, it changes but it doesn’t. All that you’ve been to each other is still there and what you will be to each other is yet to come. it seems like an abyss but it’s only one more little rise on the horizon. enjoy the moment. it will stay with you forever.

    • says

      Sandy, thank you. The ceremony was beautiful and we were so happy to have our family together to celebrate. I like your thought that it is more of a rise on the horizon than an abyss – thank you.

  2. says

    Congratulations on your son’s graduation. Yu so poignantly described such a huge event in both the lives of a child and a parent.

  3. says

    While my children have not reached this stage in life yet, my sister in law just graduated as well. I have know her since she was five and I have watched her grow into an amazing yung woman. She may not be my child but watching her on stage and hearing her name called as she accepted her diploma moved me to tears as well. I can only imagine the abyss I will feel when it is my baby that’s name is called.

    • says

      Cherise, the moment your child’s (or SIL’s) name is called is powerful and I was filled with great joy and pride. Bet you will, too! Thanks

  4. says

    I used to think my mom was silly to cry at graduations. But now just the thought of it makes me tear up, so I finally get it.

  5. says

    Congrats to your son on all of his accomplishments! It’s so true how our schedules revolve around these school years. I remember having this feeling when my son graduated from grade school! I was always so involved and it suddenly came to a screeching stop.
    Best of luck to all of you for the next chapter…time to turn the page.

  6. says

    What I didn’t realize was that the huge life change that happens after the “school years” is that they no longer have school vacations. They enter the world of work where they are usually on the bottom of the vacation lists (if they have vacation at all). Work can take them far away and now no more time off at Christmas. No more Spring Break. When they get some time off work, they may want to do something other than visit Mom and Dad. It is a new era. It should be. It’s a good thing. It can be the pits.

    • says

      Cathy, yes, we shall see if we get to spend vacations together – hope so but we have to be flexible!

  7. says

    What a beautiful piece. Don’t those two decades fly? I used to say that the school could have them for most of the day from September through May – but in June, July and August – they were mine. They may have been in and out of the screen door and back and forth to the pool, the library and their bikes – but they were luxuriously, deliciously, indulgently, mine. I’m going to go sit out on the back patio, quiet now, sip some lemonade and ruminate on how lucky and blessed i’ve been.

    • says

      The summers are golden times with school pressure off all of us for a few months. Enjoy ruminating and thanks!

  8. says

    Congratulations on your son’s graduation, and just know that there are so many more exciting things ahead!

  9. Carpool Goddess says

    Oh this is so beautiful and I can so relate. Congratulations to you and your son! Job well done!

  10. says

    Mary, congratulations on your son’s graduation from college. As I try to come to terms with my daughter’s graduation from high school in two weeks, this post really hit me as you talked about your schedule no longer being dictated by a school’s schedule and that he is no longer a student—that is huge! I also love your reference to “standing at a parenting edge” as we probably will always do when our kids reach different milestones and crossroads in their lives no matter what age they are. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post!

    • says

      Julie, each of these milestones is so significant, for us and our children, of course, too. With our eldest child, we only have the perspective of seeing their lives up to college or high school graduation as they achieve these. With subsequent children, it feels a little different as our parental horizons have stretched. Congrats to your daughter in two weeks!

  11. says

    As a relatively new fan, I’m reading some of your articles for the first time. I put this one off, like I wish I could put off my child’s coming of age. As I shopped on line for my daughter’s 21st birthday next week, I decided it was time to read it. What a beautiful reflection you have shared with your readers. As heart-twisting as the topic may be, the poignancy of your writing helps us all revel in the importance of our role as parents.


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