Are our kids prepared for the world that will greet them after college?

Are our kids prepared for the world that will greet them after college?

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

Her stepmother led the way.

“Excuse me,” Cindy said. “Wheelchair coming through, excuse me,” she repeated.

The sea of Tar Heel blue parted, as the graduates crowded closer together and allowed me to wheel through.

My daughter, Brittany, along with 3,371 other University of North Carolina undergraduates, huddled at their designated gate. Although directed to another parent entrance, the wet pine needle terrain proved too treacherous for my wheelchair.

This the only way I know for me to get in,” I told Cindy as we followed the pavement through the blue bee-hived entrance.

As she meandered through the jungle of robes and tassels, I focused on the ground just beneath her feet. My goal was to avoid rolling over sandaled feet and manicured toes, making sure no one landed in my lap. More than once, I’ve surprised a poor soul who had backed up to find a set of immobile knees behind theirs.

“I’m sorry,” I kept repeating to the graduates’ feet. “It’s the only way I know. Thank you.”

They graciously moved out of the way — for all of us.

Cindy forged ahead, our conga line extending behind the two of us with Brittany’s father and brother in tight formation and her boyfriend bringing up the rear, balancing her 6-year-old half-brother on his shoulders.

If only we’d had an aerial view.

We emerged from the crowd, found our seats and exhaled, marveling at our unexpected adventure.

“We made it,” I said to Cindy, finally raising my eyes to hers.

And so did these graduates.

Cloaked in that common garment that unifies by color, style and purpose, these graduates mourned and celebrated this bookmark in their lives.

As we watched the pageantry, I spied several Baltimore alums searching for their graduate children. There’s a special bond when you travel the same path — even if it’s 30 years later. The same buildings, the same dorms and sometimes even the same professors have become part of your children’s history, too.

And you wonder, what have they taught my child this time? Were they the same lessons we learned? Are they the lessons they need to know now?

Graduates today have lived through unprecedented tumult. Through her boyfriend’s eyes, Brittany witnessed the Virginia Tech shootings on his campus while experiencing first-hand the tragic death of UNC student body president Eve Carson, shot to death last year. The shock and aftershock of such violence ushered in a new culture of caution to the carefree college life.

Undaunted, this generation pressed on. Our children took self-defense classes, instituted security measures and adjusted to the new cadence of mindful living.

They refused to give in to the fear. In fact, many chose to give back. Volunteerism soared, as did charitable giving. This spring, I joined 2,000 UNC students and friends in their largest-ever fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. They were determined to “Celebrate. Remember. And Fight Back.

A week later, those same kids helped “turn it blue” on campus, cheering on the resilience and stamina of a men’s basketball team that refused to be denied a NCAA championship.

But are they ready for the world that greets them now? Have they learned enough to cope, to adapt, to find success along perhaps even more unconventional paths?

“Life is a work of art,” a graduate’s mom reminded me.

“With few blueprints,” I thought to myself.

Life after college is rarely linear. Unexpected adventures and companions await. And for those treacherous terrains, sometimes all we can do is focus on the ground beneath the feet of those who have gone before us.

So press on, graduates, and engage in whatever life throws your way. Mindful living will serve you well.