Aahh, June! Here in the Frozen North, it's the month of abundant sunshine, blooming flowers, newly-verdant lawns - and graduation ceremonies. Suddenly my Facebook news feed is full of pictures of a still-gawky-around-the-edges adolescent, clad in a robe made of a fabric found nowhere in nature and standing between stunned-looking parents, one of whom has captioned the picture with "So proud!" or "Never thought I'd see this day!" Having witnessed many a high school graduation ceremony, and shepherded several classes through the process, I have some insights that might help parents out there navigate the agony and ecstasy that is the commencement season. Without further ado, I offer you the following sparkling advice and observations:
1. Your child may well go off the rails. Whether your student got accepted to all the Ivies or barely skated by in Senior English, the end of compulsory schooling often marks the first major child-to-adult transition of his or her life. Until he or she lives through it, you have no idea how that's going to hit your particular graduate. Kids who are usually reasonably reliable and mature may suddenly forget the simplest things, like bringing their robe to marching practice or telling you what time you need to pick them up. Expect some backsliding in areas you think they've mastered; the young adult you finally have trained to make a sandwich without leaving the kitchen looking like it's been tossed by the FBI will suddenly start leaving a path of destruction in his or her wake that makes you absolutely crazy. Keep in mind that kids who are especially reliant on having a regular, structured schedule, whether because they have ADD or emotional disabilities, or just don't handle lack of structure well, may find the upheaval and controlled chaos that is graduation week particularly challenging. You may need extra helpings of patience and tolerance at this point, too, because....
2. You may well go off the rails. Let's face it, you knew this day would arrive, but when you were wiping chins and bummies and waking up at 2 a.m. on the regular, it just didn't feel real. Now it is real, and suddenly it hits home that all those years of first days of school and notes to Santa and unselfconscious goodnight hugs are over. You may be feeling like a walking bundle of nerves and emotions right at the same time that your graduate is walking around feeling the same way, and it doesn't help that the person whose childhood you are mourning is standing there rolling his or her eyes at the sight of you going through the school portraits again. Shut the door and indulge yourself; you deserve your moments, too.
3. They're overtired. One thing to keep in mind is that Senior Week (grad week, commencement week, whatever your school calls it) is exhausting. Long stretches of tedium alternate with bursts of frenetic activity and intense emotion as the kids move through marching practice to final assemblies to class picnics and the like. Some districts fill the evenings with events so that the kids can't get into too much trouble, or your student may be reveling in the end of academic responsibilities by hanging out with friends til all hours. If your student has a job, sports, or other responsibilities on top of that, pretty soon you're looking at someone running a serious sleep deficit. Think back to those endless Sunday afternoons after the birthday-party sleepover - how well does your kiddo handle lack of sleep? You may need to put down the parental foot and insist on one early night at home, or plan a weekend away after the excitement is over just to rest and recuperate.
4. Beware the memorabilia-industrial complex. You are going to be inundated by offers to buy graduation-themed crap, from t-shirts to yearbook inserts to diploma frames to portraits of your student walking across the stage. It's easy to get swept up in the madness and find you've spent several hundred dollars in dribs and drabs without even realizing it. Think about what is important to you and your student before you go off and buy everything in sight labeled "Class of 20XX". A lot of pricey grad-themed goods have cheaper alternatives - you can send graduation announcements via Evite, for example, and get a small number of formal announcements for close friends and relatives. You can buy a plain mat for a picture frame and colored sharpies and have everyone sign it instead of buying one of those ridiculous graduation signature stuffed animals. Most people hold onto the items that are portable and significant (yearbooks, diplomas) the longest, and the tchotchkes go by the wayside in the second or third move. If you do want to buy mementoes, see if you can preview them first so that you don't end up buying an official graduation photo where your student's face is no bigger than a grain of rice, or a yearbook insert listing activities your kid didn't do.
5. Spread out the socializing. Kids don't want to let their friends down, and the days right before and after graduation wind up getting double- and triple-booked. I remember counseling the walking zombies I used to know as seniors that they didn't have to go to every graduation party they were invited to, but they feel obligated to see as many friends as they can. If distant family is in town, have a gathering with them, but consider hosting a celebration the following weekend, or tie it in with a 4th of July picnic or good-bye barbecue in August. Your event won't be as likely to get lost in the frenzy, and the attendees will be more focused and relaxed.
6. Pick your timing. I guarantee your student is sick of the question, "so what are you going to do after graduation?" Now is not the time to air your concerns about your student's choice of boy/girlfriend, lifestyle, best friend, or career path. You may have serious reservations about his or her decisions, but unless your kid is packing up the car and heading out of town the instant the last strains of Pomp and Circumstance die down, save it for later. It may be your job to run interference with well-meaning (or just judgmental) relatives who want to throw in their $0.02 at this moment too.
7. Make room for the whole emotional spectrum. The pressure on graduates to feel relentlessly upbeat, optimistic, and excited about the future is intense. They're supposed to be having the time of their lives with a huge group of friends at every single moment, and unless you live in an Abercrombie ad, that's simply not possible. There's something bittersweet about closing the door on one phase of your life, whether you loved every minute of high school or couldn't wait to get the hell out. Graduation tends to heighten students' awareness of their issues with poverty or friendships or academics, as they see their classmates' expensive graduation gifts, endless stream of selfies, or multiple awards. At the same time, a lot of parents are stressed out over managing family dynamics, seeing ex-spouses, juggling finances, et cetera. Expect some jubilant moments during graduation, but be equally expectant (and accepting) of all the other moments as well.
8. Finally, take pride in your graduate. Whether your child is headed to work, boot camp, freshman orientation, or the sleep sofa in your basement, you've gotten this far. When the last balloon is popped and the last relative has left for home, you get to put your feet up and revel in the fact that you have a new graduate in your house (but, one hopes, not for too long!). Whatever else may happen, you both have this moment.