Skipping Graduation

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:

Well, now that school is officially over, I can confess that V never graduated.   I will never forget the excitement of that day:  The beautiful dresses; the carefully-applied makeup; hair combed and styled and sprayed just so.  Cameras and camcorders and grandparents and diplomas wrapped up in yellow ribbons.  Her older sister, offering advice.
My husband went out to the lawn to claim a few of the folding chairs that had been set up hours earlier in preparation for the big event.  I took V to the assigned room. 
She paused at the entrance.  “I’m not doing it, Mom.”
“Why?”
“It’s dumb.”
The teacher met us at the door, gesturing wildly.  “Come in! Come in!  Hurry up and get ready!”
 “She doesn’t want to.”
The teacher’s eyes goggled.  Her hands paused in their waving.  “But she must.”
“Why?” 
A grandmother approached and pressed a mortarboard into my hands.   “Let me talk to her,” she said, as if she could move the steady rock that is my child.  “Everyone else is doing it, honey.”
“She doesn’t want to,” I said.
“But she has to.” 
“She doesn’t have to.” I handed back the mortarboard.
Parents stared, aghast.  
“Let’s go outside,” I said to V.  We joined my husband on the folding chairs.  We shook our heads and laughed at V’s tenacity.  I told her she was like her uncle, who’d refused to attend his college graduation ceremonies. 
The teacher brought out a dilapidated cassette player and a wooden bridge festooned with ribbons—the same bridge used by Brownies becoming Girl Scouts.  She pressed a button on the player and a scratchy rendition of Pomp and Circumstance started to play.  Graduation had begun.
A line of preschoolers filed from the school.  One at a time, they were handed their diplomas.  One at a time, they flipped their tassels.  One at a time, they crossed the little wooden bridge.  Parents pressed tissues to their eyes and waved and shouted to their children: “Look over here!”
V watched without signs of regret.  After the ceremonies, we drank watery punch and ate homemade brownies and helped clean up before going home for the next stage of V’s life: Kindergarten. 
But suddenly, I find that V is approaching high school graduation.  She wants to travel; to see the world before settling in at college.  “That’s fine,” my husband and I tell her.
“But everyone else is going right to college,” she says.  “What will they think?”
What has happened to my little girl?  What has happened to her resolve and her confidence and her firm belief that what she is doing is right, even if other people think it’s wrong?
I didn’t celebrate a graduation all those years ago, but I did—and do—celebrate that independent spirit within my daughter.  And I hope that, when she makes decisions about her life, she celebrates and honors that spirit as well.

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Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Skipping Graduation

Monday, May 30, 2011

Skipping Graduation

This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:

Well, now that school is officially over, I can confess that V never graduated.   I will never forget the excitement of that day:  The beautiful dresses; the carefully-applied makeup; hair combed and styled and sprayed just so.  Cameras and camcorders and grandparents and diplomas wrapped up in yellow ribbons.  Her older sister, offering advice.
My husband went out to the lawn to claim a few of the folding chairs that had been set up hours earlier in preparation for the big event.  I took V to the assigned room. 
She paused at the entrance.  “I’m not doing it, Mom.”
“Why?”
“It’s dumb.”
The teacher met us at the door, gesturing wildly.  “Come in! Come in!  Hurry up and get ready!”
 “She doesn’t want to.”
The teacher’s eyes goggled.  Her hands paused in their waving.  “But she must.”
“Why?” 
A grandmother approached and pressed a mortarboard into my hands.   “Let me talk to her,” she said, as if she could move the steady rock that is my child.  “Everyone else is doing it, honey.”
“She doesn’t want to,” I said.
“But she has to.” 
“She doesn’t have to.” I handed back the mortarboard.
Parents stared, aghast.  
“Let’s go outside,” I said to V.  We joined my husband on the folding chairs.  We shook our heads and laughed at V’s tenacity.  I told her she was like her uncle, who’d refused to attend his college graduation ceremonies. 
The teacher brought out a dilapidated cassette player and a wooden bridge festooned with ribbons—the same bridge used by Brownies becoming Girl Scouts.  She pressed a button on the player and a scratchy rendition of Pomp and Circumstance started to play.  Graduation had begun.
A line of preschoolers filed from the school.  One at a time, they were handed their diplomas.  One at a time, they flipped their tassels.  One at a time, they crossed the little wooden bridge.  Parents pressed tissues to their eyes and waved and shouted to their children: “Look over here!”
V watched without signs of regret.  After the ceremonies, we drank watery punch and ate homemade brownies and helped clean up before going home for the next stage of V’s life: Kindergarten. 
But suddenly, I find that V is approaching high school graduation.  She wants to travel; to see the world before settling in at college.  “That’s fine,” my husband and I tell her.
“But everyone else is going right to college,” she says.  “What will they think?”
What has happened to my little girl?  What has happened to her resolve and her confidence and her firm belief that what she is doing is right, even if other people think it’s wrong?
I didn’t celebrate a graduation all those years ago, but I did—and do—celebrate that independent spirit within my daughter.  And I hope that, when she makes decisions about her life, she celebrates and honors that spirit as well.

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15 Comments:

At May 31, 2011 at 4:53 AM , Anonymous Galit Breen said...

Oh this. Yes, this. You supported her to be her own, authentic self and showed her how much you value this trait. That's rare. Truly rare.

But when you bring it to today, and how much you still just want her to be authentic? You made me teary.

I adore this line: "as if she could move the steady rock that is my child." It shows so, so very much.

 
At May 31, 2011 at 5:36 AM , Anonymous vinobaby said...

I hope she takes that chance to see the world before college. She will be far more mature and educated than her peers if she grabs that opportunity. I love that she had such a stubborn and independent streak at a young age. Even though she may go through periods of doubting herself, she will come back to that strength and resolve you have fostered in her for so long.

Cheers.
VB

 
At May 31, 2011 at 7:43 AM , Anonymous meryl said...

Great post. I love how you play with the reader and with time. I have three college age kids - each one took a gap year between high school and college and it was THE BEST thing they could have done! They found out more about who they were, what they could do out of school and were rested and eager to begin college the following year. I highly support and recommend taking gap years!

 
At May 31, 2011 at 8:34 AM , Anonymous The Drama Mama said...

as if she could move the steady rock that is my child.>>This summed up your daughter's character so well. I love that you established that with us first, so her turn around later is as much a surprise to us as it was to you. I love the way you write.

 
At May 31, 2011 at 8:50 AM , Anonymous Cheryl P. said...

I love that your daughter has such a firm grasp on what she wants for herself and that she takes a stand for it. To be young and have such resolve...impressive.

Oh, before I forget. I have tagged you in a game over at my blog (if you want to play, no pressure)

TAG, YOU'RE IT!

 
At May 31, 2011 at 11:56 AM , Anonymous Amy Whitley said...

Your daughter sounds like she knows herself well. Most women take decades to do that!

 
At May 31, 2011 at 1:53 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I struggled with this post and felt it was incomplete, but had to meet that deadline. Thank you all for reading.

 
At May 31, 2011 at 1:57 PM , Anonymous Fluteitup said...

I think it will be good for her to travel before college. She will gain so much education and culture that it will prepare her for college more than the past 18 years ever could have!

 
At May 31, 2011 at 2:03 PM , Anonymous Motpg said...

Thank you. This is something I needed to read today to remind myself.

 
At May 31, 2011 at 2:58 PM , Anonymous Bella said...

This is a wonderful account of how important it is to celebrate and encourage a child's independent spirit! I love it! How I wish all mothers would have what it takes to allow their children to act out of their own volition, regardless of the expectations others may have of them. Beautifully delivered.

 
At May 31, 2011 at 3:26 PM , Anonymous Cheryl said...

It is so true - and sad - that girls tend to lose that confidence at they get older. I read once they're most confident when they're like 8, and then it goes downhill. I love how you celebrated her independent spirit, and how you didn't force her to conform. She sounds like someone who will find her own way. Good job, Mom!

 
At May 31, 2011 at 3:56 PM , Anonymous Karen Peterson said...

Such a great story. It's sad how easily that independent spirit is lost. I hope she finds it again in her travels and that she realizes many will wish they'd followed her path.

 
At June 1, 2011 at 7:05 AM , Anonymous Kelly said...

I love this and the fact that you supported her independent thinking. Hopefully, it doesn't take to long for her to regain it and know that it doesn't matter what "they" think.

 
At June 1, 2011 at 11:17 AM , Anonymous Cathy K said...

Independent thinking comes from a deep, true place within and allows us to struggle to our feet should we be momentarily dashed against the rocks, brush off our petticoats and look for a new place to step ...

 
At June 1, 2011 at 5:25 PM , Anonymous Bernie said...

Hey, I don't remember this one. Love it. Mother is aghast to think the nonconformist may actually have to start making compromises. The trick is to make the compromises without ever really compromising. I bet V has already figured out how.

 

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