Graduation Day Reflections: Celebrating With Our Graduates

It’s graduation time and many of us will be celebrating the hard work of those that are closest to us. Perhaps you have a senior in high school graduating at the end of this month or a preschooler who will be transitioning to kindergarten in the fall. Maybe there is a family member graduating from university. It may even be you who will be walking across that stage. Whichever scenario applies, graduations are definitely exciting.

With some of my closest girlfriends after my high school graduation.

In my lifetime I have witnessed fifteen graduations (sixteen if you count my oldest graduating from preschool). I’ve received diplomas twice: high school and college. I’ve witnessed three family members walk: my sister, my brother-twice, and then my niece. Additionally, my job as a high school educator has required me to walk the processional with approximately 3,900 students over the course of the past nine years. It’s safe to say that I am knowledgeable in the field of graduation ceremonies.

Yet, no matter how many ceremonies I’ve attended, each one is always sentimental and feels just as exciting as the first.

One of my favorite aspects of the district that I work for is that teachers get to dress in caps, gowns, and wear the sash from our alma mater. Each year we have the privilege of leading the students to their seats, sitting with them while we listen to inspiring speeches, standing with them before they walk across the stage, and lining up to shake each and every graduate’s hand. It honestly gives me goose bumps just writing about it.

Annual selfie with one of my coworkers and friends moments before walking with students.

I love seeing the students walk across the stage as it gives me a chance to reflect on the past year(s) I spent teaching them and building relationships with them. Looking up at all of the parents in the seats that surround us, I think about how one day that will be me up there watching and cheering on my own two girls as they transition into their next chapter in life. Sometimes I fantasize about their futures.

What will they aspire to be? What hobbies or interests will they have? Will they continue on to college? What will be their major?

It’s a bit crazy to think about those things, considering that my girls are only 6 and 18 months, but we owe it to them to have our minds focused on their future from the moment they are born. After all, parenting is about preparing them for what’s next.

A parent approached me about two years ago with a special task to carry on for her son. He was completing his freshman year in high school, and she had been doing something special for him each school year without him knowing. Her idea was so fantastic that I started doing it with my oldest and will do the same with our youngest.

The idea is to have all of your child’s teachers and caregivers, from preschool through senior year of high school, sign and write a memory in the book, “Oh, the Places You Will Go,” by Dr. Seuss. On graduation day, the book will be handed over to your child. They’ll then be able to see what they’ve meant to their teachers throughout the years, to discover how much they’ve grown, and to be inspired towards future success.

Looking at this student’s book and seeing it covered with memories literally brought me to tears.

It got me thinking. After all of the graduations that I’ve attended, I’ve never attended a formal graduation as a parent. I can only imagine the pride that one must feel. The anticipation, hard work, commitment, hardships, obstacles, and triumphs that one has experienced throughout the years. To be a parent and to witness such an exemplary accomplishment must be an incredible feeling. I’ll probably be an emotional trainwreck; after all, I teared up at my daughter’s graduation, and that was only preschool!

My daughter’s teacher signature book

So I’d like to end with this.

To the mom whose child is about to graduate:

You have watched your child grow up into the young adult that you see before you. In some ways they’ve exceeded your wildest hopes and dreams, and in other ways, maybe not. Regardless, they are about to embark on a new journey. This moment will be extremely bittersweet, and you will be filled with mixed emotions. You’ll feel wonderfully proud but also forlorn as you come to realize that you must begin to let them go.

No matter what you are feeling, I hope that you also take time to acknowledge yourself. This is a big moment for you because it is you that helped to get them here. It’s been a long road; there have been numerous challenges–moments when you felt defeated. Nevertheless, the child that walks across that stage to receive his or her diploma is here because of you. You felt their first kick, witnessed their first step, heard their first word, snuggled them when they were ill, comforted them during their first heartbreak, stayed up late studying for that big test with them, drove them to all of their extra-curricular activities, and are now sitting in the stands shouting their name as they are handed their diploma.

Yes, take this time to celebrate your child, but after all is said and done, open a bottle of wine and make a toast to yourself. You deserve it.

On this graduation day, congratulations to you and to yours!


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


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