On Graduation

It’s graduation season and I’ve got graduation on the brain. Pre-school. Nursery school. Middle school. High school. GED. Undergraduate. Graduate. Post graduate. Certificate. Continuing Ed. Basic Training. And many more. I think it’s safe to say that most of us know someone who will be graduating or will be graduating ourselves. Graduations are everywhere, they affect most of us this time of year, and they are a BIG DEAL.

A big deal because the people who will be graduating worked hard and for a long time to be graduating. They were often supported by people along the way who are invested in their graduation. The institutions from which they will graduate are staffed by people who take pride in their graduates. And the graduations are often connected to some sort of credential that will allow the graduate to move on to the next phase of their education, development and life.

Did you catch that last one…this “moving on” after graduation? Having graduated many times in my life from various programs and institutions, I know that graduations usually come with this question: “So what are you going to do now?” It’s a valid question, of course, that gets asked of graduates and which graduates ask themselves. It’s good to wonder what the graduation will produce, to ask what’s next, and to anticipate how the learned knowledge will manifest itself in the world.

At the same time, all of the future-focused questions can be a bit much for the graduate. Dare I say, they can be a bit annoying. Think about it, the graduate has worked hard. Accomplished much. Sacrificed. Experienced ups and downs. Finally, graduation time has arrived, the graduate is standing on top of her or his educational mountain, but all anyone wants to talk about is what the next mountain looks like. Along with that comes exhaustion, frustration, pressure, more pressure and an eclipsing of the present accomplishment. Bummer.

When I graduated from college in 1993, my dear mother took me aside one afternoon just after I had received my degree in English literature. “Look,” she said earnestly and lovingly, “as long as I’m alive, you will have food to eat and a place to sleep. So, go out there and follow your dreams. Take risks. Fail and succeed. In the meantime, take some time off and just enjoy all the work you’ve done these past years. I’m so proud of you.” Maybe it was a throw-away conversation for her. Maybe she has no recollection of that conversation. I remember though. I remember, and I have remembered it most of my days since. I remember both the permission she gave me to take risks in the future but also the permission she gave me to just savor my graduation. And I remember the lesson she taught me that day, about how to enjoy the mountaintop I’m on, while also moving toward the next mountain without fear and without anxiety. Thanks, Mom!

It’s graduation season and chances are that you will have a chance to send a graduation card, attend a graduation party or congratulate a graduate in person. However you interact with graduates this year, consider treading lightly on the “So what are you going to do now?” question. There is time enough to ask and answer that after the graduation balloons have deflated. Instead, consider emphasizing the “Well done! Great job! Enjoy!” kind of comments. The graduates in your life may appreciate that balance, and they may remember you with gratitude for many years to come.

Rev. Kevin Goldenbogen is the senior pastor at the Charlotte Congregational Church. He can be reached at (802) 425-3176 (x11) or by email.