Everyday Graduations (plus a Commencement Address)

Graduations happen every day. Sometimes they are recognized with ceremonies and celebrations and sometimes they are not. Often they are marked with smiles and sighs, relief and pride, family and friends gathered around to witness the calling of names and moving of tassels. Other times they are filled with pressure and disappointments and grief. The sting of missing out on the valedictorian position by one one hundredth of a point, of having no one present to bear witness to the moment, or the feeling that whatever it is that is being completed doesn’t really matter, that it is, somehow, “less than” and not worthy of any pomp or circumstance at all.

In the last two months I’ve attended alot of “graduations.” There were the traditional ones, held at  academic centers of learning, where people walked across stages, receiving diplomas that signified the completion of a grade or certificate program or degree. Then there were the graduations that, while not culturally condoned as such, marked other kinds of completion. My dad graduated from the surgical theater to the Intensive Care Unit to a regular hospital room and then to home. My friend graduated from a program geared to help women candidates run for political office. Somewhere, someone graduated from rehab and someone else graduated to a cigarette free life. Perhaps you graduated from a particular fear into freedom or from one to-do list to another. Not all graduations are happy, as in divorce and all manner of losses. These, too, need ceremonies.

All of life's completions and movements are important. All of them are worthy of noting in a celebratory or ceremonial way. This need not involve big expenditures of time or money. Perhaps a moment of silence, inhaling pride for finishing, would do the trick. Perhaps making a small certificate of accomplishment for a friend who has crossed a finish line of sorts would suffice. Maybe bringing together a few folks to honor someone’s completion of whatever “task” might just mean the world. 

Everyone graduates from something and those that aren’t recognized by big formal ceremonies  are often the ones that could use some recognition, some small marking of sorts that honors what has occurred. Where ever you are, take a moment or two to consider the large and small accomplishments that you and your friends have tackled. Might you find a way, right now, to honor and mark these important happenings?

In June I was deeply honored to get to deliver the commencement address at Portland State University’s School of Education. I spent months preparing 10 minutes worth of words that I hoped would recognize and inspire. When I got to the day, I realized that the greatest gift was getting to be present to the individual and corporate sacrifices and sweat that had brought both graduates and their supporters to the day. It caused me to redouble my resolve to celebrate this in every day life. I’m posting the talk here. If you’ve graduated from something recently, I offer it as a way of marking your hard work and success. May you feel me cheering from afar.