One of my great anxieties this past year was that both my daughters would graduate, one from high school and the other from college, on the same day 300 miles apart. I can do a lot of things, but being in two places at once isn’t on that list. Generally a graduation isn’t something you attend whenever you can get around to it. “Oh honey, I know you worked your ass off for years, but I’ll come to the next one.” Yeah, doesn’t really work.
So thank the universe that, though it was the same month and year, the dates were a week apart, which made it possible not only for me to stand proudly by, but for the girls to be at each others’ rights of passage as well as their own.
The first was high school. Both my girls graduated from Waldorf schools which means that there were about 20 in their senior class, each student gets a real moment to say or share whatever they would like, and because it’s Waldorf, their offerings were intelligent, creative, and worthy. The seniors talked about life, the universe, their gratitude, the grace and fortitude of their teachers, families, and friends. There were laughs and tears, each of the speakers was poised, prepared, and extraordinary.
When my daughter’s turn came, she put her back to the audience and faced her classmates. She spoke to them first and since I was in the front I could hear her. She said, “I wrote a poem for you guys.”
I don’t have her final transcript, but this was a working copy. She turned back to the microphone and stood, stunningly beautiful and unabashedly honest and said these words she had written for the people with whom she had shared so much—
In all of life there is one thing on which you can rely
and this is change.
You have options—you are fortunate.
Choose bravely, you may not yet know how to choose wisely.
Changes will come in an inevitable wave of fortune, of fate, manifesting as the cumulation of every word spoken, every thought acted upon, up to this moment.
And now change comes faster, speeding on until the blur of life leaves you breathless with vertigo, with dizziness, with laughter,
until one day, the swirl of confusion softens.
Then you will know that your soul is a unique color in a magnificent prism that holds us all,
Dancing. Suffering. Loving.
Unique yet intertwined with all, with everything.
Thank you for the soul we share.
Until now, in this moment, and always.
She’s a better writer than I am, and I’m so glad. The emotions of a gesture like that make it all worth while. So often in life we just soldier on, unable to see the forest for the trees or the horizon for the clouds that shrouds it. But there are brief moments when the event lifts us above the confusion, moments when we are granted a clarity of vision both behind and before us. A chance to see and feel the chaotic dance of our lives in perspective, a privileged glimpse of the forces that buffet us. Between my gratitude for this remarkable daughter, the community that embraced her, and the loss of that familiar feeling, sitting at that kind of graduation ceremony, where you know and love each kid up there, is like being surged back and forth, up and down, in an ebb and flow of a growing, unstoppable storm. I wept.
It was wonderful.
Next week came college commencement. A few hundred students in black gowns personalised with their race, religion, artistic propensities, activism, and chosen fields, high heels next to bare feet, marched together down a long field of grass overlooking the pacific ocean in the distance. In contrast to the small high school graduation, these students were many and I knew none except my daughter, but I felt for them all. Every family there saw only their own. We applauded each, so many of them with honors and remarkable accomplishments, fresh energy shining from them as they enter a very needy world, ready to hold it up, to clean it, to refresh it, to love it.
Of course, this is a Northern California college in a University that focuses on what each culture can bring to the world, the strength of each individual and what they alone can contribute. I only wish every school taught these truths instead of the sad lie that the only success worth striving for is to make more money than the graduate next to you. To have been taught to believe in what you are told to believe in instead of how to think for yourself is crippling and all too common in a society where religion and fear put blinders on those who should have the farthest vision, who should know no limits. And far too many institutions of education revere that most horrifying of empty American values, live to seek to be the envy of others.
There was none of that on this joyous day.
I am heartened by the vision and fortitude I saw. I am so pleased to have been a small part of that long walk, the five-year jog-run-struggle toward the symbolic movement of the tassel on your cap from one side to the other.
I didn’t do the math homework, I didn’t learn all the irregular Italian verbs, and I didn’t share an apartment with four other girls while carrying a full academic load and working to pay the rent since only mom was helping out financially.
But my daughter did. I took my own meandering walk to get to those two special vantage points, those remarkable days. All too often I’ve wandered off the path, gotten lost in the fogs of confused relationships, fallen into holes filled with fetid swamp-like self indulgence and wallowed for longer than I should have. Figuratively speaking, I’ve crossed rivers with bridges out, slipped over sleet and ice, and traversed meadows in golden light. I’ve gotten stuck on plateaus for so long long I would have welcomed going down when I couldn’t find a way up.
But every once in a while, on our journey, we reach a place where we can truly see very far.
I had two of those encompassing, inspiring views within a week.
It is all connected.
I love my girls.
Never stop learning, never stop moving.
Shari July 9, 2017