Even though my high school experience is getting quite far removed, I enjoy watching others go through that important rite of passage.
Over the past few weeks the pages of this newspaper have been packed with the photos of beaming graduates, along with proud teachers and parents.
I love that behind every cap and gown, each student has a story, a struggle and ultimately the triumph of a diploma.
Most of us have spent a Saturday in June drinking out of a plastic cup and eating a slice of cake at a backyard graduation party. Just this weekend we wished my husband’s godson well as he strikes out for college and a career in pharmacy. I remembered the first hug I got from him when we met and he was about 10 years old.
I flipped through his scrapbooks and saw all the special moments from his life, turning him into the young man he is today.
Despite the snarky remarks made to young people that they will never experience an easier time in life, I disagree.
I think for a lot of people high school is hard. There are so many challenges completely beyond your control. And when you are 16 or 17 years old you often lack the coping skills to navigate them, or at the very least the perspective to take those struggles in stride.
I think it will only keep getting harder. We place incredible expectations on young people these days. Technology allows for little downtime – no break from socializing for some or bullying for others. Kids are graduating from high school with college credits already in the bank.
I can’t imagine what kind of rigor and discipline that must require.
College is so expensive that the stakes are high and kids are expected to have their future path well cemented before they head out the door, still teenagers.
So here we are, with these wildly immature brains, making decisions of enormous consequence.
And during this season of commencement, we need to be reminded that many of the graduates are anything but typical.
My husband came home from work this week and told me what a proud day it was for his coworker.
In his 30s this man, an immigrant from Somalia, had earned his high school diploma. He proudly brought the graduation program to work to show everyone his name on the list.
For two years, after working the night shift, he went to school each day mastering English and the kind of math that gives many of us great anxiety. He is married, had a baby last year and through it all has financially supported family back in Somalia, where he only completed eighth grade.
What a hard-won accomplishment.
Maybe what you don’t know when you graduate from high school in your teens is how important the experience is.
It shapes your decisions on the kinds of people you surround yourself with and how you spend your time. In high school you might learn what kind of boy or girl you want to marry, or more importantly who you might not. You might fall in love with a sport or a hobby that will bring you life-long joy. You might be inspired or supported by a teacher that changes your trajectory.
“I am a part of all that I have met,” said Alfred Lord Tennyson in the poem “Ulysses.”
Oh, how true.
My part-time job as a waitress, my struggle with math, my opportunity to write a column for the local newspaper, the friends I made; each of those things I experienced in high school and the people I met along the way were compass points leading me to where I am today.
I don’t pine for my high school days. They were fun while they lasted but I wouldn’t have any desire to go back.
But it sure is well to recognize how this milestone will leave its mark on a whole new generation of graduates.