It began in August with the last first day of school. And then there was the last homecoming dance, the last football game, the last Lights Out. It is senior year, the last year of a 13-year adventure.
The last half of the school year began, and they finally had a snow day, and about that same time the seniors became more aware of the days they had left in high school, thinking ahead to that last day of school.
The parents were watching, too, watching as the days ticked off, also thinking ahead to that last day.
The last spring break, the last chance to take the ACT again, the last prom, the last band banquet, the last choir concert …
And now that last day is here. It is graduation.
The seniors try to wrap their thoughts around a flurry of emotions, and as a parent of one of those seniors, I, too, have all sorts of emotions to sort through.
As a parent, I am bursting with pride at all my child has accomplished, the friends he has made, the things he has done …
I am so, so very happy for him.
I know, as a parent, a senior sees graduation as a ticket to freedom, freedom to go to college, to get a job, to join the military, to do what they want to do. They dream and hope and wonder about this new chapter that is about to begin. I know there is sadness, too, a sadness to leave what is familiar and though it may not always be pleasant, there is a kind of security in the familiarity.
As a parent, I understand that desire for freedom. We are supposed to raise our children to be independent, helping them and teaching them along the way.
We’ve watched over the years as they learned to walk and then to ride a bike and in a blink of an eye, they were driving a car. They were gaining independence. Helping them become independent, though, means helping them become less dependent on us.
But as we reach this milestone in their lives, it is oh so hard to let them go.
You know this is a benchmark in their lives, that basically, their childhood is over, and they now join the life of an adult.
When my first child graduated from high school, I realized she was beginning a new part of her life, going off to college. She would no longer live at home full time. I would not see her every day. She was stepping into that big new world of being a grown-up.
As a parent, there is the fear and the trepidation of the things this barely 18-year-old might face. There is the angst of knowing there will be some rough days of struggling with finances, of hurtful relationships, of knowing that they think they know everything they need to know about life, and you knowing perfectly well that they have many life lessons yet to learn.
And now I watch as another child of mine crosses the stage to get a diploma, with plans to leave home in the fall. You would think, at this point, it would be routine. But oh, is does not get any easier even though it is Child No. 5.
I have the same pride, the same happiness, the same nervousness that I did when his two sisters and two brothers graduated. I worry about this child just as much as I did with No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. As I see him standing tall in his cap and gown, the lump forms in my throat, and the memories come flooding back.
The pictures fly through my mind and I see the babe I once held in my arms but now towers a whole 12 inches taller than me. I wonder how that pudgy, happy little boy who held my hand and wore a name tag pinned to his shirt as we walked into the kindergarten room got to be strong and lean. I see that little guy who used to lather up with dad’s shaving cream and pretend to shave is now that man who could sport a beard and sideburns. I wonder how the nearly 18 years flew by so, so fast.
My mind processes its own lasts — this is my last son to graduate, this is the last half of my children who will all eventually leave home. I will now have more children out of the house than at home.
I realize how quickly the time flew for this one, and understand that time has a way of picking up speed as it passes on. I try to comprehend how quickly the next few years will go by.
I know that life is about to change drastically for my senior and I hope and pray we have prepared him for the things he will face, not just the next four or five years at college, but in the years that follow.
I hope that along with the academics he has learned in school the past 13 years, the math and biology and English, that he has also learned to be kind, to treat others like he would want to be treated, to be comfortable with who he is, to try his best. I hope he has learned that things do not always go your way, and to accept it with grace. I hope he will be honest, to have integrity, and know that it takes years to build a good reputation but only takes a few minutes to ruin it. I hope he has learned to make smart choices.
The next four or five years, he will face many tests, some in the classroom but many more in the dorm, on campus, and on the job.
And as he, and all the other graduating seniors, have now gotten to the last, this very last day in high school, I hope they remember that you don’t get a diploma for passing these sorts of tests.
Lori Hansen is a Greenville-area resident.
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