To the heroes of the graduating class

If the strains of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” didn’t cause my throat to constrict during my son’s recent high school graduation ceremony, the sight of 180 teens marching in neat lines of two across, dignified in their black graduation robes and caps sure did.

As far as graduations went, it was your typical, garden-variety affair. Held outdoors on the football field, the beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains flanking the campus, we listened to the usual opening address, followed by songs, speeches, recognition for award recipients. Hats off to the graduates who garnered awards. You surely deserved it and your efforts have been duly noted and fêted. Valedictorians, Salutatorians, Principal’s Award recipient, National Honor Society member, Top 10 Students. And so on.

That’s not the group, however, to whom I dedicate this blog.

I am a member of NAMI—the National Alliance on Mental Illness—and I participate in a local support group and its accompanying online discussion forum. Other members of this group are parents such as my husband and myself, who have needed support through our kids’ tricky adolescent years. The group, its supportive presence and collective wisdom, has been a life saver to me, a rope flung out in turbulent waters that just about pulled me under a few years ago. I’m unspeakably grateful for the group, its members and their own stories. Difficult situations abound. Life gets real here.

Prior to parenting, in my early thirties, I glibly thought all kids graduated from high school. Well, certainly kids of well-adjusted parents with college degrees and a stable, loving home environment. You do everything right, the kid will turn out right. Right?

I can hear some of you laughing out there. Silly, deluded Classical Girl. Life, as well, sort of chuckled at my naïve attitude and murmured, “Boy, do you have something to learn.” So Life went about teaching me. Illuminating me. The past eight years, if not the past eighteen years, have forever changed me. Humbled me. Opened my eyes to all the different, subtle ways, all of us—kids and parents alike—struggle. And when your kid is not neurotypical, or is struggling with a mental illness or behavioral differences, or something scary and undiagnosable, all the rules of parenting get thrown out the window anyway.

What seemed impossible to consider two and three years ago—my son pushing past his challenges to graduate from high school—took place this month. And, oh, the pride I felt, the relief, the thorny, crazy wisdom. The bittersweetness. Because not all my NAMI friends and fellow parents have been able to achieve this milestone. Good kids from good families sometimes have to drop out of high school. Debilitating anxiety. Physical illness. Mental illness. Scary, turbulent behavior that risks tearing the family apart. Eating disorders. Self-harm. Suicide ideations. Suicide attempts. The escalation of any of the above, mandating residential treatment. Attaining a high school diploma becomes secondary in importance, often shelved, temporarily out of their reach.

On graduation day, I watched closely as all my son’s classmates’ names were called out and they stepped up to receive their diplomas. Each and every one touched me. I understand now that every last one of those kids had a story. Every one of their parents had a reason to feel proud. We may never know the other guy’s story. If it involves something like anxiety or mental illness, quite possibly we won’t ever hear the story. There are no awards for having gotten out of bed every morning and gone to school, even though, for some teens, it was like scaling Mt. Everest daily. Some teens went through periods of wanting to kill themselves. Some tried.  Families tend not to share that. You just never know.

Those are my heroes. Those kids. The quiet-looking ones (or not) who didn’t garner awards and accolades (or maybe they did. Reminder to self: you just never, never know). They did this. They achieved this milestone.

Here’s to you, heroes of the graduating class of 2017, for all your efforts, the barriers you overcame, to arrive at this place. And to your parents. I raise my glass high to you all. And to my son, I am so very, very proud of you.

 

                      

PS: if you are a parent struggling with this kind of situation and don’t know where to turn, please, please reach out to me, via my “contact me” page, or get in touch with your local NAMI chapter. There IS help for you and your child. You are NOT alone. I promise.

9 thoughts on “To the heroes of the graduating class

  1. Robyn Knyte

    Oh T,

    This made me cry. It truly is a struggle and there is absolutely no rule book to help one navigate the turbulent waters that invilolve any kind of illness, especially the silent ones. The ones that don’t show themselves as loudly as others. But I am thankful for the help that is there for kids and parents alike.

    Kudos to you and yours my friend. Well done!

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Aww, you’re making ME teary-eyed, Robyn. Thank you for posting your beautiful, sensitive reply. It means so much to me. xoxo.

      Reply
  2. Luann

    This really touched me, thank you so much for sharing. My daughter is going to slvhs for her senior year, after homeschooling since kindergarten. She wants this change, pushing the limits on her anxiety. It’s good to know that we’re not alone on the journey.

    Reply
  3. Karen A

    Thanks for this. My daughter also just graduated from high school, and we traveled a more similar road to you than I had realized. I am not in NAMI, but I have been going to another support group and I have an online support group also. She’s going to college in the fall out of state and I’m hoping this new independence will be something good for her mental state. If not, she can always come back for a few years. I wrote a blog, a little like this one, about what we reward in kids these days. I agree with you totally, sometimes just dragging yourself out of bed every morning and facing those inner demons for the 90th time makes a person a hero.

    Reply
  4. admin Post author

    Luann and Karen, I so appreciate that you two left your comments and a few words on your personal situations. It is such a gift for me to hear the words “I can relate” (and, on a more selfish note, “this really touched me” really appeals to my writer’s ego!). I find such comfort in knowing others are struggling as we are. Luann, don’t hesitate to drop me a line next year (or before) if I can help in any way with your daughter’s transition to SLVHS. The administration there was so very, very helpful to us, and I’ll be forever grateful by the way they supported my son. And Karen, wow, small world. I want to see your blog – is it on your website? Feel free to leave a link here, because it sounds like readers who come here will appreciate reading anything in a similar vein. Wishing your daughter (and you) much courage and fortitude and good wishes next year as she embarks on a more daring adventure! : )

    Reply
  5. Annette M Hadley

    Classical Girl, your authenticity, humility, curiosity and compassion are showing. Showing beautifully. You stayed the course, helping your son to stay his course. A rugged, twisted course for sure, and you both survived. The fact that he graduated high school is a testimonial to the endurance, grace and support that saw you through.

    I applaud your participation in NAMI, and your transparency in sharing this story. Much of it resonates with me in so many ways. Keep it up, step by step, ask for the support you need. I’m here with you and for you.

    Love,
    Annette

    Reply
  6. Anne Stenehjem

    As always, your observations go below the surface and nudge the reader into remembering and even contemplating the sometimes difficult journey and all important passage of graduating from high school. It’s been a few years since my youngest graduated, but I remember getting choked up at the first chord of Pomp and Circumstance. It is a parent’s joy to see their child, all seemingly grown up in their robes and hats. But underneath is still our “baby” growing wings about to fly! Congratulations to your son and best wishes for his future!

    Reply

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