Itís that time of year. Whatís the old song? ďI can still remember ...Ē And I do. Itís what I talk about when Iím invited to be a graduation speaker and what I write about every year at this time.
Itís about all those painful memories.
For many people, graduation is a day full of joy, a day about pride and accomplishment, about family and friends, a day of celebration. I hope it will always be that kind of day for my children ó and, yes, for me in celebrating them.
But thatís not how it was for me when I was the graduate.
In high school, I missed out on being valedictorian by a tenth of a point (and if theyíd considered my last semester grades ...). OK, not a biggie. When people asked where I was headed to college, I had to say that, actually, Iíd been rejected by my first through fifth choices and was headed for No. 6. (In the end, I did well by Wellesley, and hopefully it did well by me.) My parentsí marriage was falling apart.
By the time I graduated from college, it had fallen apart. I was raped 36 hours before. My father didnít come because his wife of six months ó who didnít like me one bit ó was angry that I didnít have a ticket for her. My mother came with her then-boyfriend. I was too much of a mess for a dinner out, so we had bagels afterward at my sisterís. Then I went ďhomeĒ to the apartment ó the one where Iíd been raped in the parking lot.
And when it came time to attend my law school graduation, I didnít go. Having no money at all, Iíd already started work a few weeks before at a firm in D.C. My father was dead. I didnít have money for the airfare back. My mother said it was just as well.
So when I think about graduation days, I think about all of the sadness of people who are missing, who arenít there to come or donít come, of graduating and not going where you wanted to go, of looking out on a sea of what looks like people who are so much happier than you are.
And here is what Iíve learned in the years since. Life is not about learning to deal with success. Thatís easy. Itís about learning to move past disappointments and failures, to move on, to make the best. I wonít say everything works out for the best. It doesnít, not always. Sometimes what is, is.
Thereís an old study I always invoke in talking to disappointed seniors. It was a study of a class of Harvard graduates from decades ago that found that the happiest were not the ones who were dealt the best hands, but those who played their hands ó whatever the cards ó well. There are things you just canít change, and you confront them on big days like graduation. And there are things you can change, and you will. And then there is the serenity to know the difference.
A few years ago, a friend asked me ó in a situation not entirely unlike the one my father faced so many years ago ó whether he should go to graduation even though his wife had not been included. My advice: walk over coals or broken glass. You never know what the future will hold. He went.
Some good comes from everything. It does. Sometimes it just takes a while.
Congratulations, graduates. Congratulations, parents. God bless.
© 2012, Creators Syndicate Inc.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.