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College Graduation Takes a Village

Scott Sager

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My oldest daughter is about to graduate from college. I’m excited, looking forward to the ceremony, the pomp and circumstance, the speakers who will tell her and her classmates how smart and accomplished they are, the impact their lives can have on the world, how much is still ahead for them. The rest of the family — little sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins — are all thrilled for the big day.

But my daughter, the graduate? Not so much.

Oh, she’s looking forward to the parties, the time with friends and seeing family, but the importance of the actual ceremony, and all the emphasis devoted to a couple of hours sitting outside on uncomfortable, metal folding chairs, is lost on her. To my student, her accomplishment isn’t walking up and collecting a piece of parchment with her name on it. She sees her achievement as stretching back over four years, many papers written, hundreds of lights hung, terabits of film edited, however many rugby matches and sailing meets, senior projects and hours upon hours in classrooms.

Why are all these people coming to watch, she wonders, when her part will last less than a minute? She is already focused on what’s next, packing and selling furnishings, preparing for her summer job and applying for a permanent position after that. Graduation, for her, is a requirement, little more than a day blocked out on her calendar.

How do I explain to her that, true, graduation is just a moment but perhaps the only one that allows her family to share in her accomplishment and to be recognized for our part in all she’s attained? Not to take anything away from all her hard work, but she didn’t do it alone. Of course there’s the financial support, but we’ve also put in time, schlepping her stuff to and from campus, foregoing family vacations while she sat in her room working on assignments or because she had to get back to school early. I’ve willingly trekked to her school to see shows she’s worked on and sporting events, showed her how to fill out W-4 and direct deposit forms for school jobs, sent needed supplies requested through urgent text messages ending with the word “TOMORROW!?!”

Graduation is for us to celebrate, to feel part of her experience. She can show Grandma all the dorms she lived in and impress her little cousin with the library and student center. She can graciously accept envelopes and packages from aunts and uncles with silly cards that play “Pomp and Circumstance” in tinny, electronic notes. It’s my chance to wink at the other parents and commiserate about how fast the time has gone, how proud we are of our sons and daughters, how we know they’re ready to take on the world.

She wrote every word of every assignment turned in, and committed every hour it took to get to this day, but that doesn’t mean college didn’t take a village. Graduation is a chance for her to recognize everything and everyone that went into her four years at school.

So, daughter, smile and have fun with this wonderful, unusual, special day we’re going to share. Graduation is really for the villagers, and here we come.

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Scott Sager, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York, is the father of two daughters, one in college and the other a recent graduate. With past lives as a social worker, preschool teacher and at-home dad, he brings a broad perspective to varied topics touching on family life, child development and education. He definitely gets how unpredictable the adventure of raising children can be and how every bit of information and each connection can help parents along the way.

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