There is a photograph of me clad in a light blue graduation gown. My head is cocked slightly as I stand next to and lean into my father’s erect pose. My cascading hair is even bigger than my smile – which is big. (It was the 90s, after all!). Standing behind us in the distance is a woman holding a big red umbrella, open to fend off the drizzle. I remember that Kodak moment. That picture was taken following the graduation ceremony at Columbia University, where I earned a master’s degree in journalism.
I thought that was going to be my last graduation. In fact, it was my last graduation, but not the last graduation that I would attend.
‘Tis the season of caps and gowns. Of pomp and circumstance. Of sheepskin diplomas. Of commencement speeches. Of mazel tovs. Of endings and new beginnings.
The first formal graduation I can remember is from middle school. We wore bright red caps and gowns. The commencement exercises took place not at our school, but at the Loew’s Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, a once lavish movie-palace type theater on Flatbush Avenue that opened in 1929, but had since fallen from grace. Vestiges of its grandeur were evident, but it had seen its day. Still, our friends didn’t seem to mind as we relished in the excitement of moving on to the next step.
My Brooklyn high school graduation took place outside our borough in Manhattan at what was then the Felt Forum, the theater at Madison Square Garden. Our large senior class – nearly 1,500 students – needed the space.
I didn’t attend my college graduation – more on that some other time – so it was the Columbia University graduation that last rests in my memory.
Except for the one I just attended.
Our daughter Shaina graduated from her elementary and middle school in a ceremony that was as beautiful as it was emotional. Our family and friends came to fete Shaina and to join in her accomplishment as she reached one milestone and took steps to her next.
There I was remembering her first day at the school, attending her first class in nursery school. I dropped her off that morning concerned about how she would fare on her first day of school ever, and when I picked her up, the lovely teacher told me something that I appreciated then as I do now.
I remember the teacher said that Shaina was happy to stay, but then happy to go. She enjoyed being with her class, but was glad when I came to pick her up. It seemed like the right balance of independence and attachment appropriate for her age.
Since that time, there were so many years at the school. So many memories of learning everything from aleph bet, literally, to the most complicated math equations that would stump us all.
And now, here I was. I was attending Shaina’s graduation. And I was the erect-standing parent, posing for a picture with the graduate at my side.
Bittersweet, they say.
But maybe more like that lovely nursery teacher said. Glad to come. Glad to go. Happy to have been there, to have gained so much in Torah and secular studies, and more, and happy to move on to the next step. After all, that is the goal. To let go, and to let grow.
I will miss that school, but am grateful for what we’ve gained.
Wishing a mazel tov to all graduates, and a very happy summer!