On Parenting: A Different Type of Graduation Celebration
Updated: May 28
This past Friday, I stood and watched as my daughter zipped up her white gown and positioned her cap on the crown of her head. "Let me," I said, reaching forward to brush her hair behind her ears and help her adjust the band across her forehead. I could tell she wanted me to take a step back and allow her to get ready on her own. "I've got it, Mom," she said. I knew she had it, yet that small part of me that will always be her mother wanted to help, to take over, to make everything easier for her.
This was no ordinary graduation day.
Memorial weekend of 2020 had been on my calendar since her first day of high school. I had looked forward to the day when I would sit in the stands of the Cintas Center, the large arena where her school always held their commencement ceremony, and cheer for her as she walked across the stage to accept her diploma. I'd envisioned waving to her as she made her way through the throngs of people afterwards and wrapping her in a tight hug. We would dine at a nice restaurant with lots of family to celebrate the event. By the start of 2020, we already had a lot of parties penciled in our calendar for Memorial Weekend.
How different the actual weekend turned out to be.
From the moment schools closed their doors in March, I'd begun checking my email daily for updates on graduation plans. At first, I believed things would return to normal by the end of May, but with each week that passed, my original vision of graduation weekend began to dwindle. I put my trust into our school district, knowing they would make it meaningful.
They did not disappoint.
By late-April, it was apparent we would not be attending a live ceremony. Instead, the plans included special moments throughout Memorial Weekend. The first was "Operation Diploma Delivery." This was what I looked forward to the most. Our district sent over 30 decorated school buses with select staff members to each individual graduate's home to hand deliver their high school diploma. Our assigned time was early in the morning, Friday May 22nd. To my surprise, not only did our family come out to cheer our daughter on as she walked down our driveway to the awaiting bus, but many of our neighbors and friends were there too. I nearly burst with pride as she was handed her diploma and threw her cap in the air. The look of pure joy on her face was priceless. No global pandemic could take away that moment of achievement for my daughter.
On Sunday, the commemoration continued with a virtual ceremony. Watching from the comfort of our family room, I joked that we wouldn't have been able to stretch out our legs and toast with champagne if we were at the Cintas Center. But there was something lacking, . . . that buzz of energy that comes from being in a crowd. I'd experienced that energy at concerts, at sporting events, at live performances and shows. There have been many times these past few months when I've wondered if I'll ever experience that feeling again. Yet every time one of my daughter's friends was named and their senior picture flashed across the screen, my phone vibrated with congratulatory texts from their moms. While not physically together, we were still celebrating as one.
The final celebration was a parade through the streets of our local community. My daughter and her friends met at a parking lot to line up in their cars so they could follow each other through the designated route. Most parents drove so that the graduates could wave through the open windows or (I'll admit my daughter did this) stand and cheer through the moon roofs. Our community stood apart at a socially-acceptable distance on street corners, sidewalks, and parking lots, holding posters and waving flags, cheering as the chain of vehicles drove past. Car horns rang out. Despite the early summer heat, it was a pleasure to watch. There was a sense of communal solidarity and joy in the air.
During the virtual commencement ceremony, the Mason City School's superintendent talked about "Mason Moments," . . . those meaningful moments that each student will remember above all others. As he explained, they aren't the big moments like graduation or prom or attending one of the football games, but individual memories each student would carry with them through life. Fond memories of time spent with friends or teachers. Snapshots in time. As I sat listening to the speech, a memory of my own surfaced.
I was a senior, and my friends and I had taken our last exams. I was driving downtown to join them for our Senior Skip Day. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came on the radio, and I was singing at the top of my lungs. As I sang the line "Oh, I've finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road," I burst into tears. They were tears of excitement for the future that still lay ahead of me beyond my own yellow brick road. The promise of finding independence, a career, falling in love, starting a family and creating a home of my own waited just around the corner. The memory was strong, the details flashing brightly in my mind. That long-ago day could have been yesterday. The intervening years have flown by in the blink of an eye. I glanced at my daughter and was hit with the realization that all this potential waited for her. That she was taking her first steps into her own independent life.
The morning of "Operation Diploma Delivery," when my daughter had made her final adjustments to her cap and gown, she turned to me and smiled. "I'm ready, Mom," she said with a deep breath.
I wrapped her in my arms and squeezed her tight. "Stand tall and proud," I whispered in her ear. "You deserve this moment!"
And then I stepped aside.
She was ready.