This time of year, my eyes are always misty.
I’d like to say it’s the fault of allergies, but the truth of the matter is, it’s not. It’s graduates.
Graduation season is in full swing. Couch, Dora, Koshkonong, Liberty, Thayer and Willow Springs high schools held their graduation ceremonies earlier this month. West Plains High School sent its seniors off into the world early this week, Bakersfield seniors graduated last night, Missouri State University-West Plains is conferring degrees this morning, and Alton High School seniors will don their caps and gowns on Friday.
I could go on and list every high school in our coverage area, but I better quit before I start becoming a bore.
Truthfully, every one of those schools has a special place in my heart. Over the last seven years, they’ve been a staple part of my beat as a reporter, or I’ve gotten to know the students, faculty and/or administrators in other ways. And when we’re talking about children, seven years is a real long time.
Seven years ago, my own children were 8 and 10. Now, they’re both storming the halls as Zizzers and my oldest will start calling himself a senior as soon as school lets out tomorrow for summer. Their chubby little cheeks have given way to sharper, more adult-like features, and their personalities, have done the same. They no longer need me to help them understand the complexities of the world — in fact, I find myself turning to them for that insight more and more.
I used to cover the MSU-WP commencement exercises regularly. I only knew about a handful of the graduates, nevertheless, I was content to have my camera up to my face without reprieve. I couldn’t see what I was shooting for the tears that always seemed to pour, so I just took a lot of pictures and hoped that a few would turn out.
I am just sentimental like that. I do the same thing at parades. Just call me Sappy Abby.
But now, it’s more complicated. Now the kids giving the speeches and being recognized are kids I’ve known since they were in early elementary school. They’re kids that have shown livestock every year at the fair, starting when the steers towered over them and now, they’re towering over the steers. They’re the kids whose athletic victories I witnessed in middle school, whose acts of kindness I’ve seen many times over, who took their sleds down the alley behind my house all three times it properly snowed during their childhoods.
For all intents and purposes, these kids are my babies and I feel very honored to have watched them grow up and make it this far.
For some of them, it’s an absolute miracle that they have made, and excelled to boot.
This year, I’ve not wasted an opportunity to hug a senior and tell them how proud I am of them. And a part of me wonders, while I’m gushing, if I should dial it back a little, lest I come across as overly emotional and strange, but you know what? Every hug I’ve given, every “I’m so proud” I’ve uttered has been met with a tight embrace in return and what appears to me to be sincere gratitude.
So maybe I’m not as strange and overly emotional as I think. Maybe the world these kids are setting off to join on their own for the very first time is a scary place and I’m just one person who can make it a little more friendly.
I don’t have much advice to give these graduates. That’s my dad’s department; he’s given hundreds of motivational graduation speeches over 35 years of teaching and administration. But I’ll end this column today with a few thoughts for graduates and their parents:
- Stay close. Write letters or emails, send random texts, actually make a phone call once in a while. I know. I know. I hate the phone, too. But there’s something to be said for the comfort of hearing your mom’s encouraging voice, or your child’s familiar laugh.
- Boundaries are hard. Remember that as you navigate this uncharted territory of entering into adulthood. Setting them is not just about saying what’s not OK, it’s about defining what you are capable of handling and how you will deal with it when it gets to be too much. They are as important for parents as they are for their grown children.
- Never miss a chance to say, “I love you.” And definitely take every opportunity to demonstrate it.
Do you have a standout memory of your senior year? I’d love to hear about it! Send your stories, along with your name and maiden name, if applicable, alma mater and year of graduation for publication as a letter to the editor to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to P.O. Box 110, West Plains MO 65775. For West Plains High School alumni, some letters may be reserved for a Homecoming special this fall.