I sit here scrolling through dozens of pictures on my phone, reliving last weekend, and all the emotions that accompanied it – my first child’s college graduation.
I took as many pictures as I could – and as my daughter had the patience for – of both the significant moments, and various not-really-important images, so that I could share them with our many family members who were unable to attend.
And over the course of three days, I captured and witnessed moments of joy, sorrow, peace, and revelation. But one thing that really struck me was an overwhelming sense of solidarity with fellow parents.
As I observed various ceremonies, family interactions, group meals and gatherings, I could read the thoughts and feelings of other parents as if they had a news ticker stuck to their foreheads.
There were knowing glances and smiles from strangers, kind comments and shared emotions, as you shed a few tears alongside each other, or murmured a “Wow” together when you learned of the incredible achievements of a distinguished student. For those three days, I kept sensing an overwhelming urge to say, “I feel you!” to another parent, grandparent, or equally proud relative.
We seemed to all be moving about in an atmosphere of collective acknowledgment.
And while I will never be as eloquent as a famous commencement speaker, I’d like to share a few of the realizations that we as parents came to embrace during the graduation weekend.
My Daughter’s College Graduation Weekend
1. There are few events in life that fill you with as much optimism as a college graduation does.
Sitting and listening to the almost absurd accomplishments of these young people, I could not stop my brain from hearing Whitney Houston sing, “I believe the children are our future, Teach them well and let them lead the way…” With all the distressing news of the world that we are continually bombarded with, it’s sometimes easy to sink into a funk about the future of our country, and our planet.
The perfect antidote for this is a college commencement, where you are simply blown away by what these “kids” have already started working on, and what you know they are going to accomplish in the next few decades. The possibilities are literally endless, and it fills you with a profound hope.
2. Every parent is proud, but for a myriad of different reasons.
There are the kids graduating summa cum laude, already accepted to law school or medical school, or with an offer of employment from an amazing tech company. There are the students who barely scraped by to earn that diploma. There are the students who overcame extreme obstacles, whether it was challenging mental or physical health issues, financial hardships, or some type of discrimination.
There are those with no idea yet what they will be doing next month or next year, but they all crossed that finish line together. Some had to work extremely hard in the classroom, or in social situations, or at a job, or on a field of play. And each parent holds in their heart, the distinct and deeply personal reasons why they are delighted in their own child’s accomplishments. None are more valuable or important than anyone else’s.
3. The same goes for degrees.
In our society, we tend to place elevated importance on the “difficult” degrees, in subjects like engineering, chemistry, physics, and math. I admit I am extremely impressed by the people whose minds can grasp and conquer those fields of study, because they are so outside my own realm of understanding. And of course, we absolutely need people who will become the engineers and scientists of the future.
But I am just as impressed and equally thankful for the students graduating with degrees in subjects like music, global studies, dance, history, geography, digital design, and education. Those Humanities degree-holders are the ones who will help us all deepen our connections, foster spiritual understanding, broker peace, embrace one another, and bring us to tears with their art and creativity.
4. We need to allow our graduates some time to mourn what they are losing.
The main focus of all graduations is celebrating what our students have gained. That diploma signifies that they have expanded their brains with knowledge, acquired hard and soft skills for the workplace or future studies, and have created valuable relationships with fellow students and faculty members. But they are also turning a momentous corner, and leaving behind cherished places, friends and experiences.
Every single one of them is distancing themselves from a unique period of life, that can never be fully re-created or replicated. Allow them space to feel the sadness and loss and let them know those feelings are normal and will take some time to process.
5. Our kids will never not need us, and we will always help them when it’s needed.
After all the pomp and circumstance had ended, the cheering and applause had faded away, my husband and I, along with my daughter’s roommate’s parents, found ourselves on Sunday afternoon helping with the dissembling of furniture, packing up of dishes and various other chores that needed to be done in the girls’ apartment. There were many trips up and down stairs to drive items for donation, to walk to recycling and trash dumpsters, and to assist them in readying their apartment for move-out inspection in time.
I suppose we could have felt some annoyance or disappointment that we were needed to help with these last-minute things. They are adults and should be responsible for their own tasks. But I remembered my own last few weeks at college, and how busy and emotional it all was. I only felt an odd sort of happiness that we were there and able to help out and be a part of that last day in their final “home” at college.
I consider it a privilege to be able to assist our adult children when and while we can, and I know the tables will turn one day in the future, when we will be the ones calling on them for help.
If you are one of the millions of people attending a college graduation this year, I hope that you will be, or you were, filled up with all of the feelings, particularly the optimism and wonder that such a milestone celebration evokes.
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