One is the last. The other, the first.
We have two more newly minted high school grads in the family this week. Diplomas in hand, they are off to great, new adventures. We like graduations in this family. Next week, we will gather to honor and celebrate their achievements just like we have for the other ones who’ve reached the same milestone. They will do what high school grads do at open houses. They’ll be polite and try to talk to their relatives when what they’d rather be doing is hanging with their friends. We get it. Go on. Have fun with your friends. Soon, you will only see them during college breaks and eventually, those visits will probably become shorter and farther apart. That’s just what happens when you outgrow each other.
One chick is the last to leave the nest so her parents have seen this show twice before and know what’s ahead. They are happy for her and pretty pleased with themselves. The other one is the first bird to leave. His parents are happy, too. But they are just on the cusp of the stage of life when the house begins to empty out bit by bit and bird by bird. We think we have all this time with children when they are small and then, in what seems like a flash, they are walking across that darn stage and launching into the vast unknown, wings flapping like crazy. To those parents I say, “you’ll be fine.” And so will he.
In my generation, I was the first to graduate from high school and the first to go away to college. The generation before me, it was my aunt who was the first. Her parents were both high school graduates during a generation when that wasn’t a given. Back then, only those with the financial means to go even considered a college degree a possibility. My grandfather regretted not being able to go to college his whole life. And so, in our family it was understood that while high school graduations were important and worthy of celebrating, it was what came after that truly mattered.
This is, in part, why it matters still, to these two new birds leaving the nest this week. They have taken for granted the fact that higher education was theirs for the taking because people who came before them that they know only from grainy photographs never did. Not for a single minute. This shaped who they were. It has shaped the rest of us, too.
And so, when all of us with gray hair gather next week and eat too much food and make the new graduates stop long enough at the table just to say hello, there will also be a pair of happy ghosts standing off to the side smiling and listening to the laughter.
It is good to remember how we got here. Not take it for granted. Not for a minute.
Congratulations to Carolina Bather, Benilde-St.Margaret’s, Connor Ott, Graduate of Breck, and Lucas Ray, recent graduate of Purdue University. Be proud, but humble. Be kind, but smart. Be happy, but safe. You are all loved more than you can possibly imagine by this wacky bunch of people you call your family.