One of the many meanings of the word “Commencement” is “to begin” and this particular day marked both an ending to one journey and a beginning to another in the lives of several young people, and one in particular. It was a bittersweet occasion as I watched my only child walk up the aisle as a student and later, dance a bit on the way back down as a graduate. It’s been a long road getting to this point, but today all of his work and effort paid off when he graduated with honors from the school he has attended since Kindergarten. An important phase of his life came to an ending today but an even more important one commenced, beginning with those steps taken down the aisle to a life waiting to be experienced and lived. As I watched this transition take place, my thoughts kept going back to another graduation, in 2010, on a day much like this one.
Then, they sat on the same stage, in the same building we sat in today, wearing their royal blue caps and gowns and sitting in chairs so big that their feet didn’t touch the floor. That point was remarked on by their headmaster, who admonished us as parents to enjoy the years ahead, because while “today their feet don’t touch the floor, in twelve short years, those same feet will carry them down the aisle and out the door into the world”. At that time, 12 years seemed like a very long time, but in hindsight, I realize he was right and that this period of time truly went by in the blink of an eye.
So much happened in that twelve year period. Elementary School, Middle School, High School. Basketball games in warm gymnasiums and football games on frosty nights. Class pageants and demonstrations of things learned along the way. The innocence and cuteness of early years gave way to the awkwardness of middle school as they grew and learned, eventually passing over into the awakening years of high school and the transition from children to adults.
During their high school years, they learned to cope with the strictures of a global pandemic, the one thing that even their elders, parents and grandparents could not draw from their own well of experience in how to deal with new realities; we, like them, learned and adjusted to the ever-changing routines of a new day, and they, like us, pushed forward and continued to reach for their goals. For once in a generation, we all learned together and emerged changed, but hopefully wiser and more adaptable.
For 18 years, my son has been more to me than just a child, or a responsibility or even a subject for writings on this blog, writings which have become more infrequent over time. He has been a source of amazement, joy and pride and I realize how much richer my life has been because he has been a part of it. I am happy for him in ways that I can’t describe, because I know he stands on the precipice of writing the next chapter in the story of his life, and like any good book, the formative early chapters are a necessary foundation to the richer, fulfilling stories that will follow.
I am also sad because I know that a chapter of my life must necessarily come to an end here and a new one must begin, one where he will transition from that of a central character to a supporting one. He’ll still be very important to the story but not always central to it. Both he as our child and we as his parents will begin a new chapter, his exciting, ours a bit more uncertain as we find our footing again as empty nesters.
College looms on the horizon for him, a time where he will truly take his education into his own hands and those hands will guide the wheel most of the time. He’ll learn independence, experience the rewards of good choices and possibly the consequences of bad ones. I hope we have prepared him properly for all that lies ahead of him, but I hope he also knows when he needs us, we’ll still be there for him.
I know for him, the pomp and circumstances of graduation are a bit old fashioned and possibly a waste of his time, but for us they were an opportunity to indulge in a timeless tradition that dates back over many graduations and many chapters of new beginning as parents watched their children-turned-adults march out into the world. Today he joined that tradition and begins a new road. I pray that the road will always be smooth for him, but knowing that it will have many twists and turns, I am thankful for all who contributed towards giving him a road map to guide him as he sets out on the journey. Thank you to his teachers and administrators, to his classmates and friends, and to all their parents who were part of our “village”.
Finally, to my son, congratulations on your achievements and for being the unique person that you are. We are proud of you and always will be.