Empty Nest Life Transitions

High school commencement speech from, a Mother. 

May 2, 2016

Ok so maybe a Mom (and in particular, one’s own Mom) would be the last person a high school graduate wants to hear from on the day of one of the greatest milestones of their lives.  Perhaps it would be a little creepy to allow parents a moment to reflect and vocalize words of wisdom from a pulpit while having the undivided attention of all.

Right.  Undivided attention might be a bit of a stretch.  By the time the esteemed commencement speaker makes his/her way to the microphone there have been a myriad of speakers who seem to have a united goal of stifling the excitement and testing the patience of every 17-19 year-old in the venue.  (Not to mention the rest of the attendants.)

And it would be a little weird for a Mom to give a commencement speech, I mean really, haven’t we said enough already???
That said, I really think I have something additional to say.  I think all parents at this juncture have something they just need to get off their chest.  The seismic shift taking place at the end of high school, is as exciting, scary, gratifying and exposing for me, the Mom, as it is for my son, the student.  So I am going to bear my soul in the land of make believe and give you – the readers of this blog – what I would title “The High School Commencement Speech from, a Mother”.

Here goes!

Thank you for that lovely introduction {insert name}, I am so honored to be here today to articulate to my son, and his peers, the abyss that each one of them, as well as their parents, find themselves looming over on this momentous day.

Wait a second.  First of all, I have to admit, this is not the first commencement speech I have written as a Mother.  When my sons were five and seven I was diagnosed with cancer, and I wasn’t totally convinced I was ever going to see them graduate from high school.  I wanted them to know exactly how I felt about the event.  So I wrote them each a letter.  I sealed the letters with wax and saved them until last year when I gave both of my boys a stack of letters.   The pile consisted of different letters they were to open over the course of their lives such as: when they got their license, first girlfriend, college, etc..  I’m not sure if either of them have read the “When You Graduate” letter and I am definitely not sure if what I will be sharing with you today is the same wisdom I shared with the younger version of my graduates.  Someday I will compare notes.  I do have a feeling that the tone of this speech may be different,  since over the last 14 years I might have learned a thing or two I was not aware of at that time.  So I’m thinking you might be getting the improved 2.0 version.  Ok here we go again…

I want to talk about the abyss we are all lurking over this very minute.  Sounds dismal doesn’t it?  I promise it is not.  An abyss is defined by the esteemed Merriam-Webster as “A hole so deep or a space so great that it cannot be measured”.  Does that make it sound more enticing?

It may not feel like an abyss to you today – but if you think about it, you, in this very moment, are standing with one foot on solid, safe ground and the other foot has stepped forward, and is reaching for something to land on.  Leaving each one of you and the people that have raised you hovering over the proverbial abyss.

So that safe ground… well, I must apologize.  Over the years we may have made it a bit too safe.  You see, I may have led you to believe that you are Kind of a Big Deal.  And to me, my son, you most definitely are, and forever will be, kind of a big deal.  I have nurtured you and watched you grow in all of your uniqueness.  And because we live in a world of abundance I have been able to shower you with attention and support.  I have picked you up and brushed you off.  Heck, sometimes I failed to even let you fall – just because I could.  Even though I knew in my heart it would have been better for you to fail and learn.  That was my own selfishness.  Now, when you step off over this great abyss and you fail, it might be jolting.  I’m so sorry, but really, failing is good.   I only wish I let you do it more because when you fail, you try again and the next time you might fail but you also might succeed.  You will get to experience this incredible sense of accomplishment once you have been through the failing process fully (without my assistance, ugh!).  It will be so gratifying to know that you did it under the steam of your own engine.   And it builds grit and resilience and confidence. 

How I do wish I let you fail more often.

I also regret to inform you that when you cross the abyss you will not be the center of the universe.  You were and will always be the center of my universe.  You will find, however;  that over there you are just another human interacting with 7 Billion other humans.  You are just a tiny little speck, breathing the same air that 7 Billion! other tiny specks are breathing.  Two things I would say about this.  First these other humans will not have the attachment to you that I do.  (Not yet anyway.)  They have not spent hours of sleepless nights worrying about, or endless minutes thinking about and marveling about YOU.  And you see, I haven’t had the opportunity to tell them how incredibly fantastic you are!!  This, my son, is going to be all up to you.  And how you present yourself is so very important.   These interactions with other humans really matter.  Every human wants to be treated like they matter.  Be kind.  Listen when they talk.  Be open to their ideas.  Be curious about your differences.  It is unique genius that makes the world go around, see if you can identify what unique genius others present to you.  Point two is that every living thing is significant and there is both an invisible string and a ripple effect to all of the connections you make with that living thing.  You may not grasp the gravity of these connections right now, but you will.  

I wish I expanded your world a little more, introduced you to other humans not like you, other living things that were different than what you were used to.  

As you embark to this other side, please give up every single preconceived notion that we have created for you in the realm of comforts.  Material things don’t matter on the other side because the abyss is the great equalizer.   I pray the abundance that you received on this side consists of love, inspiration, integrity and resourcefulness. May you walk your path humbly bursting with these internal gifts.  I pray you realize the abundance of material stuff we showered you with, because we could, was exactly that – material stuff – external stuff.  This kind of stuff does not travel with you.  You go only with what you have inside. 

I wish we didn’t have so much stuff, as I worry it may have blurred your view of your intrinsic gifts.

Unfortunately, there will be times when you can’t quite get your footing so you will look down into the abyss.   When you do, there may appear to be monsters hiding in the dark crevices or lurking at the bottom.  Perhaps I should not have filled a water bottle and sprayed the monsters of your youth.  I should have invited you to face your fears.  As you got older at least I should have let you openly acknowledge you had fears.   I know the monsters exist.  I know they will taunt you.  These fears may try to lure you to dark places.  You may even stumble and almost fall into the void.  Do me a favor.  Plunge deep into the unknown.  Make yourself vulnerable.  It is the only way to explore who you are. 

I wish I shared with you that being afraid was a good thing, the thing that incites each of us to live.

As your Mom, I want you to know that as I reflect on this seismic shift, I will be taking a dose of my own medicine.  Drinking the regrets that I have in the cozy, maybe even too protected way I raised you.  I thought it was my duty to shower you with love, surround you in a safe village and protect you from monsters.  Now, without you under our roof to focus on and fuss over, I’m scared.  What will I do?  You were me, then you were a part of me, then you became an extension of me, and now you will be an element of me.

So as I look back, and we all look forward, let us take a moment and take the “Mother’s Commencement Oath”.  As we rattle our grounding, just a little bit and step over to new ground.  Repeat after me:

I will try new things, and fail.  And I will try again.

I will expand my circle of humans. Make myself vulnerable and engage with the world around me.

I will invest my time and effort in acquiring/enhancing my internal stuff and pay less attention to external stuff.

I will face my fears.

In closing, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for allowing me to raise you.  I did my best with no manual.  Can you believe a child comes with no manual!  

One last thing… please know that even though you find yourself on the other side, know that you only need to step back, I will be here always to catch you, on the safe side of your great abyss.

Now be off.  Fly.  Be free!

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  • Reply Amy O'Donnell May 24, 2016 at 2:17 am

    WOW- amazing!! Loved it and feel exactly the same way but NEVER would have been able to express it so beautifully!

    • Reply kwashburn@mac.com May 25, 2016 at 12:34 am

      It takes a village! So happy to have you in mine 🙂

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