Graduation and the Heart-Rending Optimism of Youth

My oldest son, Seth, graduated from high school the other night. It was a proud moment for my family and for the 1,500 other people crammed into the old gymnasium like canned sardines to watch their loved ones achieve this milestone.

Grads and hat toss

It was a nice ceremony. The salutatorian and valedictorian speeches were very well done, but my butt still aches from the old wooden bench I was perched on for two hours. Funny how the body is less forgiving as you get older. My 9-year-old son sat right next to me on that bench. He also clapped for every one of the two-hundred and twenty graduates who crossed the stage. His hands were bright red from clapping. Yet the next day, he was as good as new while I felt like I’d endured a two-hour prostate exam.

The joy and pride on the faces of the high school grads as they posed for photos with friends and family after the ceremony was a great reminder of the optimism of youth. These kids are starting adulthood fresh, like new cars leaving a dealership. Some are Ferraris while others are Nissan Versas, but they each get to choose which road they start down.

[More on the what an 18-year-old is all about here.]

Most of these kids truly believe they are going to conquer the world. Some of them will. Others will become worn down by jobs and bills and family and illness, until they become something they could never imagine at this point in their lives – their parents. But don’t tell them, not yet – let them enjoy themselves for a while.

I remember the feeling of finishing high school. At that age, you really feel as though you can succeed at anything you try. And the beauty of it is, if you fail you just brush yourself off and try something else. It’s an incredible feeling, and it was visible on the face of every graduate the other night.

Yes, I remember the feeling. Vaguely. It’s been thirty years for me, and when I finished high school I wasn’t sure where the road would take me. My dad was a plumber, and I figured I’d work with him for a little while until I hit the road for New York City, where I’d start in the mailroom of a large corporation and quickly ascend to partner while beautiful women fell in love with me, like in a Michael J. Fox movie.

Twenty-five years later I was still a plumber. Still in the town I grew up in. Now I’m a writer, in the same town. Remember earlier, when I compared graduates to new cars? My road was very, very short, yet sometimes I feel like I have about a million miles on me.

But to those high school grads, everything that happens now is new. College, jobs, relationships – all new, all brimming with excitement and potential. They accomplished this milestone and now face the excitement of the unknown. We as parents are just as excited as they are. We know that the road ahead won’t always be easy, but hopefully we can use our experience to guide them along. Not that they’ll listen, but there’s always a chance.

I’ll have another graduation to attend in about eight years, when my youngest son graduates. It seems like a long time, until I think of Seth in the fourth grade. It really seems like yesterday. So I’ll blink, and my youngest will not be sitting on the bench beside me. Instead, he’ll be walking across that stage getting his diploma.


Best High School Graduation Gifts: 2016 

5 Promises I Make to My Teen Son 

Note to Self: Parenting a Teen 

GAry SpragueGary Sprague is a freelance writer who lives in Maine with his wife and two sons (until fall, when the oldest one is off to college). You can find him online at Twitter, Facebook and his blog, GarySpragueBooks.

About Gary Sprague

Gary Sprague is a freelance writer who lives in Maine with his wife and two sons. You can find him online at Twitter, Facebook and his blog, GarySpragueBooks.

Read more posts by Gary

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