Our son the senior, has been dancing around the living room for the last three weeks. Parties, lunches, celebrations and such have started leading up to the prom and graduation day.
He thinks this is his greatest hurdle and that life will be a piece of cake from now on. He also fancies himself an adult as he will turn 18 two weeks after graduation. His mother and I keep telling him that because he made good grades and a high ACT score that got him in a highly respectable college does not mean he can rest on those laurels.
What advice would you give him and others graduating in a few weeks from high school?
It’s a magic word this time of year, particularly for seniors and their parents. The magic comes from the expectation of proms, parties, celebrations, and caps and gowns. You’re seeing this already in your son. He is immersed in senioritis, the period of time when students want to fall back on their achievements and to merit new privileges.
Graduation is also a time of mixed feelings, a time when students look back and ask, “Is it over? Is this all there is? How did it go by so fast?”
The shock may be even greater for parents. We remember not just the last four years of school but the day we brought the baby home from the hospital, the horrible nights of colic, the birthdays, the scraped knees, the first date and so much more. Each set of experiences changed us, giving us depth, happiness, and renewed energy watching our children grow and develop physically, intellectually and emotionally.
And along the way, we also experienced sadness.
Rather than being a time of magic, high school graduation is really an artificial event. The graduations that really count – those events that change us and provide new beginnings – are the graduations of life. Some of these turning points are predictable such as, getting your first job, getting married and having children, yet many are not.
What your son is about to begin learning, Marvin, is that we all have a series of graduations in our lives, a time of closing out the past and going on to new challenges. Graduations in life have little to do with school and everything to do with personal growth and learning.
WHAT TO DO
For high school and especially for college graduation, give your child the gift of insight.
Think back to your own life and pinpoint your personal graduations – the times when your dreams became nightmares and when your fears brought success.
Find a way to capture these graduations of life, whether in writing, through illustrations, on audio recordings, or in a Graduation scrapbook with photos, clippings and mementos. You may even set up a new scrapbook or journal for your child to record the next series of events that will lead to the next graduation of life.
Getting a degree may lead to a party – what you did to get the degree says whether you truly expect graduation or not.
By sharing your personal history, your child can learn that hindsight gives us direction, vision gives us a road map, and that living through gains and pains gives us the learning that prepares us to go forward. Too many children give up on themselves because they have not measured up to school’s definition of success.
Help your child understand that graduation is not just an end – it’s much more a beginning with new opportunities for success. The true yardstick is not an artificial graduation tied to a school calendar and a piece of framed paper, but real-life turning points that push us in new directions.
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For 30 years, Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been helping children become more successful in school. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework," was published by Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She holds her doctorate in education.