I recently wrote about the expectations and experiences of kindergarten students and parents. As the 2008-09 school year comes to a close, I want to reflect on the other end of the public school timeline — high school graduation. During my nine years on the school board, I have annually contemplated a baccalaureate address that I might give to that year’s graduating class — words of congratulation, encouragement and inspiration, sharing purported wisdom based upon life lessons. 

This year, however, my graduation thoughts are more focused on the parents, rather than the graduates, of the class of 2009. My opinions are personal and not based upon any expertise, advanced academic degrees, or empirical studies.
Rather, I speak as a father of two LHHS graduates (2003 and 2007), an active volunteer working alongside teenagers, and a school board trustee involved with four different high schools. I realize, too, that countless variables mitigate any generalized thoughts and recommendations. Each graduate and their family (or families) have unique experiences, challenges and opportunities. So, please filter these comments for what they are — personal reflections.

• Stop and reflect. Amid the craziness of graduation events, I encourage you to set aside some time and think back on the school journey that you and your child have shared since kindergarten (or even preschool). Close your eyes and remember the sights, sounds and, yes, even smells of their childhood. Think about the faces of those who have influenced and shaped your child, whether for better or worse. Grab some Kleenex, and take time with family photos and videos, school artwork, yearbooks and other memory-filled treasures.
• Celebrate the moment. Graduation is a fleeting event, but it needs to be so much more. Do not let the occasion pass without special times with your family and friends. The attention should be on your child, and it’s only fitting to recognize accomplishments and brag about your child to others.

• Capture some time with your child. This is an opportunity to have the most positive conversation with your child that you’ve ever had. Set aside some time, whether it’s a few minutes or a long dinner, to tell your child how proud you are of him, how much you love her, and how excited you are about his future. I know this can be a challenge, but for one moment, set aside the “stuff” and “baggage” of life and put your child on the pedestal she deserves.

• Savor and cherish the ceremony. I have attended more than 30 RISD graduations, and I have some time-tested notes and suggestions to maximize graduation day joys and minimize inevitable stresses: Know that your child will be frustrated and exasperated on graduation day (“another picture?”, “I want to be with my friends!”) so plan ahead and agree on a schedule and expectations; arrive early to get the seats you want and avoid the headaches of congested traffic and parking delays; cheer for your child when his name is announced, but stop before the next graduate’s name is read — every child deserves full attention; take some pictures of people on the jumbotron; do not leave the ceremony early — your family (even younger children) can endure a couple of hours to celebrate this day; and remember that some of the best photos possible are after the ceremony, but know that there is a limit of how many “memory opportunities” any child will tolerate before she has to leave for the all-night party.
• Prepare to move on. Some parents can’t wait for their child to move away, whether it’s to college, work, military or a yet-to-be-determined destination. Other parents are on suicide watch, certain that the life they have known is ending and that the child they love will never return. In truth, you are entering a new season of life, full of new joys, concerns and blessings.

Graduation is the end of a special time in life, but it is also a significant beginning for everyone involved. Congratulations to you and your graduate. I pray that graduation will be an enjoyable, memorable and meaningful event for your family.

See you at school … and graduation.