The Graduate

The Graduates

This past week my oldest child received her high school diploma. The graduation ceremony took place in a large event center where the scale of the building seemed to emphasize the milestone nature of the function. The cavernous space was filled with over 2,000 proud parents, giddy graduates and grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and just enough school administrators and faculty to hold it all together.  

With nearly 2.9 million graduating high school in the U. S. this year, this type of formal ceremony is one of the rare universal American experiences. I pondered the complete egalitarian nature of the affair as it takes place in dense cities, rural settings and remote locales from May until June. The occasion and the multi-generational milieu provided a great opportunity for reflection as I sat in my seat.   

High school is really the demarcation of a hard line. The story of the individual becomes less entwined with the narrative of the family and marks the beginning of an independent tale. Perhaps this explains the bittersweet nature of graduations for parents.

In his commencement address at Rice University in May New York Times columnist David Brooks said, “I don’t believe we fully exist until our story is well under way. That is, I don’t believe we are people who then form relationships and set off on journeys through life. I think the journey and the relationships come first and our personhood emerges slowly over decades out of them.”

Thus, I was left to reconcile the genuine excitement I had for the emergence of my daughter’s life adventure and my own letting go. The 18 years of “heavy lifting” in my role as mother was essentially done. Not that I won’t have some measurable impact on my young adult’s development going forward, but it will be on her timetable, not mine.

This led to serious self cross-examination.

“Did I tell her everything she needs to know?”  


“Will she make good decisions?”

“Most of the time.”

“Will she make mistakes and learn from them?”


“Will she be able to pick herself up from life’s highs and lows and be happy?”

“I hope so.”

Perhaps high school graduation should also require a promotion ceremony for parents. As one dear friend counseled me, “Your relationship with your daughter will definitely change. You will miss some things terribly but you will also gain great things you never thought possible.”

Realizing time is of the essence; my goal in the remaining months before she departs for college is to impart some final pearls of wisdom to ensure that she is happy in life:

  1. Prioritize the relationships of family and friends.
  2. Find a grander purpose for greater fulfillment and meaning.
  3. Be your authentic self.
  4. Perseverance can be your greatest asset.

Or perhaps I should just simplify the message: “Do your best, we will always be proud of you.”

Carol Lewis Gullstad

June 13, 2011


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