I have two sons graduating this year. One is already off on an adventure to Wyoming after completing his degree, and the second is graduating high school and getting ready to start at George Mason University, where his older brother is already pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.I know I am supposed to be lamenting losses
I know I’m supposed to be lamenting everything they are missing and everything they can’t do but I just can’t. Of course this experience is different from our first son’s graduation last year from Virginia Tech. He had all the pomp and circumstance that comes with a big university commencement. We all gathered in his college town, he said his farewells to his buddies, we took family photos and had a cookout. It was all quite the way it was supposed to be.
But for the two boys graduating this year things are different. Like mind-blowingly different. I know it is sad, and I am pained by what they didn’t get to do these past few months but this reality is unique to them and I won’t make it about what they aren’t able to do. My lens has to be different as I watch them move through this time.
I want to focus on the amazing things happening with my two graduating sons
I want to make sure I don’t negate all the amazing things happening for them.
I am thrilled to witness their success right now. I am thrilled to see the glimmer of the men they are destined to be as they process their reality in all of this tumult. I get to watch them navigate online classes, missed expectations and life adjustments while maintaining their attitude in the face of this sort of adversity.
It’s sort of a life exam. They are showing me and the world they can handle this adulting stuff. Of course I miss the proms, and the last lacrosse season, and the big trip down to Tech for the graduation ceremonies. Those things are terrific milestones and I hate that we won’t experience them. But I’m not going to negate the experience they are having now, and the one they own as a part of their transition into the next phase of their lives. That wouldn’t be fair to them.
I see their tenacity when they work to finish online classes, and papers, and projects without the normal cues and prompts of their traditional classroom settings. I get to see how they respond when things are tough. They’ve gone hiking, and fishing, and scuba diving. They’ve done drive-by birthdays and online hang outs and organized philanthropy events with their fraternities using social media. They have adjusted and they are doing okay.
We are missing the normal but relishing their resilience
Yes, they’re missing the “normal.” One son was enjoying a semester abroad in Madrid when he made the decision it was time to come home. That was huge on his part and it showed a maturity that, as a parent, was very comforting to see. We wonder sometimes how our children will respond to life’s challenges, balance safety with youthful folly, and he rose to the occasion.
One son just started his after college job, and has done intense distance learning of office standards and protocols, all online. For a few weeks he traveled back and forth observing all of the needed personal protection requirements. He was thoughtful and took the right steps to protect himself and our family and made his way through. It’s hard to form relationships with new colleagues from afar but he’s done great.
Our recent graduate just left for his first round of field work with a mouse on the endangered species list. He’s looking forward to his new adventure and we’re excited for him. He had his masks, waters, gloves, wipes, sanitizers, route picked out, and hotel reservations made for the 2000 mile, cross country trip.
I guess what I don’t want to do is make this sad for them. I don’t want to focus on what they’re missing. Instead, I want to revel in their adaptability, their resilience and their ability to allow life to happen, and to fit their expectations to the reality of what they are going through.
When I talk to young girls in a program I work with, I show them a line graph. It moves from left to right and rises and dips to show the ups and downs of what we experience in our lifetimes. I always ask:
“Where do you think you’re learning most? Do you learn when things are easy and going as you planned, or when things are tougher and your trying to figure out a way forward?”
They get it. The dips and unexpected trials are what brings forth the lessons that define us.
I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna. I read something that while we may all be in the same storm we are not in the same boat. I appreciate that I am not dealing with the same hardships that some of my friends are. This is not crippling my livelihood and my children have coping mechanisms some children don’t. But we have our issues as well. We all do. And that’s why I have to reset my azimuth and move forward looking at what we will get from this; not what this has taken away. I will not act as if this time in their life is a disappointment. It isn’t fair to them.
I listened to a commencement speaker who really impacted me with her words. The speaker’s name is Amanda Gorman and she is a 2020 Harvard graduate and the first National Youth Poet Laureate. I want to end by sharing her words:
“This 2020 class won’t just navigate a new normal, together we’ll build a better one. We come to this commencement to search no more. We are the good news that we’ve been looking for. Demonstrating that every dusk holds a dawn disguised within its day. We don’t burst into a new world; we begin it.”
The class of 2020 may not be walking across a stage, they are walking into history.
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