Written by Laura Stetser Tuesday, June 17, 2014 10:29 am
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As a reporter, I have covered dozens of graduations over the years. While other annual events have lost their charm, the emotion of the graduation day is never lost on me.
It’s a moment of dramatic change, a defining snippet in time that cannot be recaptured. Despite everyone’s wishes to the contrary, life is different after high school graduation. Relationships shift, memories fade and new opportunities and experiences present themselves in their place.
A few years ago, I interviewed a bright young woman - the valedictorian of her class- who learned this lesson before even stepping off of the field on her big night.
I first spoke with her a few weeks before graduation as she explained her plans to attend a prestigious military academy right after graduation.
She was a serious and determined student, who had prepared for years for her singular goal, just to have the rug pulled out from under her two days before her big speech when an unexpected medical issue popped up and made her ineligible for the program she was pursuing.
I caught up with her right before the ceremony to see what she would say that evening, genuinely worried about the stress she must have been under. I was expecting that she was going to keep the matter private and figure out her plan B later.
Instead, she showed me how amazingly poised a 17-year-old could be. When she stood up at the podium in front of all of her peers who had clamored for years to take her spot at the top, she came clean and told them everything. She admitted a sense of disappointment and told them she simply didn’t know what she was going to do as next step. She said that was okay. It had to be. There was no other choice at that point.
I wondered if an adult would have been so honest.
With a touch of sadness in her otherwise strong voice, she explained quite frankly that life doesn’t always work out as planned, despite working each semester to get the perfect grades or spending hours working out to be in the best physical shape.
The valedictorian told her classmates that sometimes the unexpected can drop right in your lap at the worst possible moment. It was a tough talk to hear, let alone present.
But, she told them, adversity clears the way for true character to shine through: she wasn’t going to give up. She wasn’t going to lie down and call it a complete defeat. She was going to pull herself back up and look at the change of course as an opportunity for something new, even as the news was still stinging.
Graduation speeches are written by the best and the brightest, edited by dedicated friends and family and then passed in front of the eyes of countless advisors and administrators before they reach graduates ears. They are normally pretty formulaic and include a perfectly selected quotation that expresses encouragement and determination with a splash of humor stirred in.
But life isn’t so edited. Its messages can’t always be approved by committee.
Graduates have to be pliable and flexible to life’s curveballs. Life gets messy, and this young woman unfortunately learned that lesson before she even left the grounds of her high school and was generous and brave enough to share it.
Each year when the energetic graduates toss their caps into the air, I always shed a hopeful tear for them and for their families.
These kids are about to venture out alone in the big sea, riding their own currents that will carry them up and down and sometimes try to take them out.
As they head out of the stadiums full of pride and bubbling with excitement, I make a silent wish that they are simply buoyant enough for the ride.
Best of wishes to all of the graduates in the Class of 2014.