As soon as I heard the solemn strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” I was a puddle.
Luckily, the school principal, Cindy, had already taken the precaution of passing out boxes of tissues just before the ceremony. Amidst applause and tears, we watched as the graduates in green caps and gowns marched into the gym. Our son Mickey was graduating from the transition class he’d been attending the last year and a half.
Mickey’s teacher, Jackie, had alerted us that he’d written a graduation speech. “There is no pressure for him to read it if he decides last minute that he does not want to,” she’d said. “He’s told me he wants to wear regular clothes under his cap and gown, so it’s up to you if you want him to change. This is a stress-free event!”
Oh, but not for me.
This was the culmination of everything my husband Marc and I have worked long and fought hard for. Thousands of hours of therapy that began when Mickey was only 19 months old. Not knowing in those early years if he would ever learn to speak. Struggling for coverage with insurance companies. Fighting for services with the school district. Navigating medical crises. Years filled with fears and tears, but joy and pride too, for Mickey’s many hard won accomplishments.
Jackie had prepared personal remarks for each of her graduating students. “Mickey has been my biggest comedian in all my years of teaching,” she told the audience. “Every day he arrives into school making jokes and pretending to be various characters—if we let him I bet he would spend the entire day acting silly and making silly remarks.” She described skills mastered; friendships maintained. “I am going to miss Mickey,” she said, “but I will be happy for him, too. I know he is going to be a success at whatever he chooses to do, because he already is.”
Jackie motioned to Mickey. Beaming, he bounded up, speech in hand. He thanked everyone. “I learned much about working in the community and getting along with others,” he said. “I had fun this year!”
One last time, I wondered: should we have also asked to let him walk in the regular public high school’s graduation ceremony? A small sliver of sadness. After all, he’d spent six years there. But Mickey is 21 now; his high school contemporaries are long gone. And Mickey didn’t seem to think he was missing out on anything. Quite the contrary. I thought of something wise my older son Jonathan had recently said: Focus on what you have; stop focusing on what you don’t.
We adjourned to the conference room for lunch, and everyone posed for pictures with the graduates. I watched in awe as Mickey confidently worked the crowd, introducing family members, therapists, and teachers to each other. So at ease. So appropriate. “Look how exuberant he is,” Marc marveled.
Again I thought of Jonathan’s words. Carpe diem, I told myself. Seize this day and savor it. I hugged Mickey.
“So proud of you, hon,” I said. “Love you.”
“Love you too, Mom,” he said.
We call graduation “commencement.” A beginning. But it is also an ending, the punctuation mark that seals off 16 years of formal education. The yellow school bus won’t be stopping at our door anymore. We are crossing that bridge between childhood, and ,,, whatever comes next.