Graduation’s season is a time for mixed emotions, gratitude

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

“Which side does my tassel go on?” the smiling young men and women whispered to each other as they awaited their commencement exercises.

Most of us can’t remember, either.

But it’s that time of year to pause, take stock and remember where we are in light of where we’ve been.

May and June are perhaps the most transitional months of the year. Young people of all ages are graduating from something. Friends will be left and old hangouts abandoned by kids going off to work or school or marriage.

Life is changing.

Many things end with the granting of that diploma.

Maybe you were graduated with honors or maybe you just count it an honor to have graduated. Some graduate cum laude, others summa cum laude and some even magna cum laude. However, you may be in that great fraternity or sorority who some say graduated “thank-thee-Lawdy.”

How you graduated makes little difference now. Leaving what you know, and moving to what you know not, is the gut emotion that relentlessly churns with each celebration. It simply hurts to break up old gangs, old friendships and old patterns.

Those friendships, built from the bricks and mortar of laughter and weeping, success and disappointments, seem destined for unknown lands as classmates line up for final roll check. Memories of the firsts, the lasts, the bests and the onlys are forever time-stamped in your heart. And the comfort in the era of the familiar is suddenly replaced by the unknown, the unfamiliar and the uncertain.

Yet, there is a sense of accomplishment that softens the sadness. There is fulfillment in goals reached, dreams realized and pursuits achieved. And there’s relief in the fact that tons of work and thousands of study hours are all behind.

But the gowns you wear. Why are they so big?

Perhaps its size reminds you that others belong in there too — parents, family, teachers, administrators, writers of books, builders of buildings, payers of taxes — the host of people who have given time, talent and money that you might receive an education. You would not be who you are and what you are had they not loved, taught and sacrificed for you.

My father was fond of saying that Jon Donne was wrong when he declared, “No man is an island.” In fact, Dad would say, every person is an island. Perhaps Donne’s true meaning was, “No person can remain an island.”

We become islands when separated from our mother’s womb. We then spend the rest of our lives building bridges from our islands to other islands.

The tears at graduation, both sad and joyful, are liquid testimony that you have successfully built some bridges to other islands. And the bulky robe is mute witness that many people have given you bridge-building materials.

Whatever honor accompanies your diploma, recognize that all graduates are members of that thank-thee-Lawdy group. It’s a time for gratitude — a time of recognizing that others have worked and sacrificed that you might be in the academic robe of achievement.

Congratulations to you and everyone inside your robe.