She wears a bright pink dress that is impossible to miss in a crowd. Her iPhone camera takes up almost her entire face and I imagine it’s been set on recording mode since the minute she entered campus. She holds the phone with one hand while waving passionately to, I presume, her son or daughter who is taking their seat on the floor of the gymnasium while “Pomp and Circumstance” blares through the speakers. It’s college graduation season.
Shortly, that child will move their tassel to the left. They will follow the recessional out of the gym and into the next chapter of their life. Mom in pink will rush out to hug her new college graduate. I’ve been to numerous graduation ceremonies in over 10 years of working in higher education, and I will never tire of watching this scene play out.
The parents (along with other caregivers and supporters) always steal the show during graduation season. I pay far more attention to the faces in the crowd than I do the graduates on the floor (sorry students). And I know you parents out there aren’t thinking about yourself in this time of celebration, but this is your moment too. There is no taking away from the individual achievements of the student.
The long nights of studying and writing papers, those belong to your child. Balancing school work with campus involvement and an internship (or familial responsibilities of their own), they also are your child’s accomplishments. But somewhere along the way, before they even walked through the university doors, your child developed the grit to persevere through the challenges they would face in college and ultimately arrive at this milestone moment. And so much of this has come from you — the mom in pink and all of the other parents celebrating right now.
During the four (or five or six…) years of college, there might not have been a direct recognition from your child about your influence, much like all parenting. But I am here to say thank you. Thank you for entrusting your child to the care of faculty and staff at a university.
We tried our best to continue the lessons of curiosity, collaboration and compassion you instilled in them. Thank you for being a sounding board for your child as they wrestled with what seemed like life-defining decisions, such as roommates, majors and job offers.
Thank you for empowering your child to ultimately come to their own conclusions. The confidence and resilience they gained made them better scholars and student leaders. And it will make them better employees (not to mention spouses, parents, etc.) too.
Thank you for the concerned phone call to advocate for your child when you believed his needs were not being met. We know not all parents are trying to fight their kids’ battles for them; sometimes there are legitimate reasons to step in. (Thank you for understanding when we couldn’t disclose certain information due to FERPA.) And thank you for your unbridled enthusiasm when your child’s name is called out and they walk across the stage to collect their diploma.
Your support played a vital role in getting them to this milestone. And while my time with your child, more or less, has ended, they will continue to need your encouragement as they face the excitement and challenges of adulthood. I know you won’t cheer for yourself (because that’s not what parents do), but know that I will be clapping for and celebrating you every time a graduate’s name is called.