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Graduations — Different Perspectives, Different Lessons

20May 2009

This past week I had the privilege in being involved in a number of school graduation ceremonies, in different roles. I had a daughter who graduated from high school (along with all of the receptions involved). I had a son who graduated from college, but who didn’t “walk” — not because he didn’t want to, but because he is pursuing a masters and the two degrees are tied together. I had a number of my friends whose teenagers and young adults graduated, so we are going through the journey simultaneously. And I had a number of teens and young adults whom I consider to be friends of mine who graduated.

It is interesting to me to observe the different perspectives different age groups bring to the graduation process. (Although the following observations are broad generalizations, I think they are true for many in each age group.)

  • High School graduates seem to be largely focused on “getting done”. They view the process of completing high school as a significant long term task to complete — it is the culmination of twelve (or more) years of elementary and secondary education. Given that most high school students are looking toward college or some other form of further training, they often are looking forward to the future with anticipation (mixed with some anxiety, depending on the student).
  • College graduates are glad to be done, for sure. But they more typically are facing the harsh realities of “real life” — trying to find a job, determining the next steps in their lives (not only where they will work, but where they will live). There generally seems to be a deeper sense of accomplishment than with high school graduates, as it should be.  Some college grads busted through in four (sometimes three) years, while others took five years. For others, it truly has been a long term goal stretched over several years or decades. College graduates seem to exude a deep appreciation along with a measured hope for the future.
  • Older family members (aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings) usually are filled with pride for the accomplishment of the younger family member. Their experience seems to be mellower, just enjoying the moment and appreciating the time together with family. With older siblings there is a fair amount of teasing of their younger brothers and sisters, in a good natured way, but one which also seems to communicate “Don’t get too stuck on yourself. There’s more life to conquer.”
  • Parents are the ones who seem to experience the widest range of feelings and emotions — pride, relief, sadness, anxiety about the future, gratefulness for one less tuition payment. And reflection. In listening to many parents’ conversations, they often are reflective on the past few years’ life experiences, and sometimes on the child’s entire lifetime.

Interestingly, it is this process of reflection that has caught my attention. Both for myself, for other friends who are parents, and for many family members (aunts, uncles, siblings, grandparents), graduation ceremonies and the traditions which accompany them seem to bring back numerous memories. These memories include their own graduation and school experiences, prior family members’ graduations, and their life experiences with the graduate.

Not an earthshaking observation, but it does seem that “ceremonies” help mark points in time. Graduations, weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties — all provide a memory touchstone that we can connect memories, feelings, and lessons of life to.

And this can be a great starting point for meaningful conversations with others. Questions like: “Grandma, what was your high school graduation like?”  Or, “What do you remember about your college graduation?” can be great ways to learn more deeply about those you love.

For me, the graduation time has been a helpful reminder to ask myself:

a) Am I investing my time and energy into those activities and relationships that I really want to — that are most important to me? and

b) What do I want (and need) to do to continue to build the relationships that I want to keep close and growing?

A lesson I have learned from having three of our four children move into young adulthood — maintaining and growing relationships with young adults takes time, perseverance, and commitment. You no longer have “dinner time” to catch up on the day’s activities and you don’t tend to have them in the car as much just running errands together and chatting. So I am in the midst of planning how to maintain and build the relationships with all four of my young adult children as they move into new phases of their lives.

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