Four years ago, my daughter was a graduating senior – from High School. When I dropped her off at college, I cried … a lot. For days. Not because I didn’t want her to go (I did); or because I thought she wasn’t ready (she was); or because I was afraid something terrible would happen (I wasn’t).
I cried because it was a significant life transition. I was deeply respectful of the rite of passage, grateful for the privilege, and optimistic about her future. I saw my child stepping forward into the adult she was becoming, and I was awed by the possibilities ahead for her.
I cried because we had reached a powerful milestone in her life.
Life’s Transitions & Milestones
Milestones are extraordinarily valuable for navigating transitions in life. They are the points of demarcation, those moments that mark the end of something and the beginning of something else. Whether annual milestones like birthdays; completion milestones like graduations; initiation milestones like starting a new job; or transformational milestones like weddings -- we often mark these events with celebration as a kind of exclamation point to life.
Milestones offer closure for the past, and hope for the future.
So I find myself, four years later, in tears again. Not because my daughter didn’t complete college (she did – and with gusto!); not because she’s not ready to move on (she is, and even she knows it); and not because I’m afraid for her future (though let’s be serious, graduation in the midst of a global pandemic definitely stinks!).
I’m crying because, no matter how creative I get (and trust me, I’ve been working overtime on this one), this milestone was destined to be celebrated without the exclamation point it deserves.
Or was it?
On the one hand, I’m sad …
- I’m so sad that she and her friends, and the thousands of college seniors around the globe, will not have their ‘pomp’ under the circumstances, their formal processionals, and their rightful acknowledgment witnessed by thousands of friends and strangers. Oprah and Obama have done their best, but their messages pale by comparison to the exhilaration (in the midst of the boredom) of a traditional graduation ceremony.
- I’m sad because they won’t have their ‘senior weeks,’ their opportunities for closure. They won’t be able to walk into a favorite professor’s office to say thank you, or run into a casual acquaintance around campus and wish them a successful life.
- I’m sad because, frankly, they won’t see many of their friends ever again. That’s normal at the end of a traditional four-year college experience. But usually, there’s some time to prepare and say goodbye.
But, on the other hand, I’m grateful …
- I’m grateful that, after four years of college, my child has learned to be resilient. I trust that she can handle what comes up in life, that she knows we’re there for her, and that she’s learned to ask for the help she needs.
- I’m grateful that my child has the capacity to look for silver linings and that she’s handled this whole lousy situation with overall grace and good humor. She lost a lot in these last months – and she’s been a really good sport about everything.
- And I’m grateful that I’m not one to take things lying down, that I understand the value of asking for help, and that I’m not afraid to do model what I teach. Instead of just accepting a graduation day marked by pre-recorded videos and a reasonable dose of self-pity, I rallied friends and neighbors (many of whom I do not know) for a safe, socially distant, masked graduation processional – complete with a loud rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance,” a march down the middle of the street, a turning of the tassels, and a pair of red mortarboards thrown gleefully into the air.
Was graduation day something we’d planned for over the last four years? Absolutely not. But it was festive, celebratory, and 1000% memorable. It was a milestone with an exclamation point!
I’ve given a lot of thought to what I can offer to other parents of graduating seniors – in hopes that whatever wisdom or comfort I offer to you will ultimately provide solace to wipe away my own tears. And here’s what I’ve come to: we can’t control what happens in life, but we can control how we respond.