Today’s the day. Like so many other eighteen-year-olds since practically forever, my son gets to walk across a stage, shake his principal’s hand, look sheepishly into the crowd for his family, and flip the tassel on his mortarboard from right to left. At about 12:15pm, my firstborn will be a high school graduate.
Big freakin’ deal, right? At least, that’s what I thought when I was in school. High school was something I HAD to do. It wasn’t a choice; it was a rite of passage. Year after year, schools churn out young (oh, how young!) adults who are ready to take on the world, kids who only recently learned to drive a car and maybe became eligible to vote–or to be drafted. And whether someone struggled with homework or breezed through classes, the result was the same: the band playing Pomp and Circumstance in a gym filled with family and friends who come to bear witness to this “accomplishment.” Yeah, yeah, let’s just get to the party and have some fun–where’s the cake.
You won’t often hear me say this, but I was wrong. Yep, I. WAS. WRONG.
As a parent, I get it now. As I think about my favorite son walking across that stage in a few hours, I don’t see just another kid, barely discernible from the other 600 around him in the same blue cap and gown. I see all the “moments” of the last twelve (thirteen, if you count kindergarten) years. The circumstances that brought us to this pomp.
I see his pride in mastering chapter books in first grade and his voracious hunger for more.
I see the days when the light in his eyes started to dim and sputter–at age seven–and a teacher who left him to struggle on his own.
I see the third grader who begged me to take him out of accelerated classes because he just wanted to nurse his wounds–and the teacher who reassured me and gave my boy room to find himself.
I see the boy who established a pattern of not caring and not doing and then trying desperately at the last minute to fix it–and a fifth grade teacher who appreciated his sense of humor and intelligence but didn’t let those things get in the way of holding him accountable.
I see high test scores and low grades.
I see the kid who desperately looked for things he could control when so much of his life was in others’ hands and rocking his little world.
I see the middle schooler who wouldn’t turn in homework, whose posted daily grades sported more zeroes than a gazillion.
I see the seventh grader who wouldn’t do his homework because it was “stupid” and he had “already done it a million times in class and the teacher already knows I know how.”
I see the kid who wanted to go to Harvard and then didn’t care if he went to college at all.
I see the second-to-last runner in a middle school cross country meet of more than 300 boys, ambling along because his mom wouldn’t let him quit during the season and he really didn’t want to be there.
I see the kid who tried out for the basketball team in seventh grade and came out of the school crying when the coach told him he would have been the next one if he could have taken one more.
I see the kid who threw himself into wrestling because, well, screw that basketball coach!
I see the lean eighth grader whose cross country coach didn’t recognize him on the first day of practice because he had changed his physique and his work ethic so drastically over the summer–the same kid who immediately earned a spot on the varsity roster. The same kid who finished in the top 25 at the same meet where he had finished next-to-last the year before.
I see the cut-up who decided to pee on the soccer field in the middle of gym class, earning him an out-of-school suspension and a sputtering phone call from his angry PE teacher to his parents.
I see the disinterested freshman from whom his dad and I had to threaten to take away the love of his life–wrestling–if his grades didn’t improve from failing to at least Cs.
I see the kid who finally got me to allow him to back off the honors classes because I was so tired of fighting.
I see the sophomore who, when he finally had some breathing room, began to realize that maybe he was smart–and for the first time ever and with not a lot of effort posted report cards with nothing lower than Bs (and even a few As).
I see the smile that spread across this kid’s face when I informed him that a deal I made with him way, way, way back in middle school about earning a semester’s worth of As and Bs would earn him a weekend trip anywhere he wanted to go–and the joy on his face when he picked the B1G Wrestling Championships only three hours away in Columbus, Ohio.
I see the kid who gained the confidence in himself to add AP and dual credit-eligible classes back into his schedule and then breeze through them.
I see the kid who made dumb mistakes and bad decisions and took the consequences like a gut punch, but took them nonetheless.
I see the panicked junior who walked away shaking from his first college fair when he realized the choices he had already made–and the bad grades that proved them–had a huge effect on his options for college.
I see the determined young man who told the admissions officer at his then first-choice college that yes, his GPA was pretty low, but he was going to fix it–and then proceeded to do just that.
I see the little-boy-turned-almost-man who decided to make up for all his bad academic decisions and earned six consecutive semesters on the honor roll, with three of those on the distinguished honor roll.
I see the kid for whom I gladly sat through eighteen hours of wrestling in each of two more years at B1G tournaments because he kept earning the trips by posting good grades. (Even when we had to drive to Iowa City in the middle of the night!)
I see the kid who was presented the school’s economics award for outstanding performance in the subject.
I see the young man who juggled a job and school and sports and even earned employee of the month honors in the middle of it all.
I see the athlete who earned seven varsity letters, four for wrestling and three for cross country.
I see the teenager who once didn’t care whether he passed or failed become riddled with angst because he wanted the A instead of the B.
I see the kid who not only understands but also models for others the true meaning of self-discipline.
I see the kid who applied to nine colleges and received acceptances to all nine–including the institution where he told the admissions counselor he would bring up his GPA.
I see the kid who brought his GPA from a 2.7 after four semesters to a 3.4 at the end of his high school career–and nearly a 4.0 for those last four semesters.
I see the kid who is EXCITED not only about college, but about learning.
I see the boy who stuck his head back inside the door as he was leaving this morning and asked, “Mom, they’ll give me my honors sash at graduation practice, right?”
Every one of us parents has a story. Those kids with the goofy hats may all look alike, but each journey across the stage is only the end of a much longer walk. Whether high school and all that led up to it was easy, hard, or anywhere along the continuum, this is an accomplishment. It means something. It may be a rite of passage, but it isn’t necessarily a right of passage.
We–yes WE, my son and I–worked hard to get here. There were many, many, many days when I thought we’d never see this day, but here we are. My bub is more than ready. I am so proud of what he has learned. It has been a long and winding road and it probably won’t get any straighter, buy you’re darned tootin’ that I’m going to be celebrating this afternoon.
That’s my boy up there on that stage.
I love him so much.