A few years ago I wrote about graduates. In the ensuing years I thought that was all I ever wanted to say about that topic, that edge of time, that walking off process, that bravery. Until now. Because as wonderful as the notion of moving on is, it is also terrifying. Often impossible. Sometimes only accomplished by crawling. And stopping. And being nudged until you crawl forward again. As we applaud those who boldly walk and do so with ease, there are many who can not. Theirs is a walk of anxiety and missteps. Of not showing up. Of hanging back. Of not joining in. Of fearing what lies ahead far more than driving on. Their achievements seem to pale in those celebratory moments. What of them? I wondered as I sat in the packed gymnasium filled with graduates and their families.
I see this misstep, this anxiety, this fear, daily in my high school classroom as attendance rates dip toward delinquency, as just entering a school building causes kids to panic and despair, and where bullying, although not tolerated, still calls like twittering birds before a storm; but I also observe this reluctance in adult’s waning participation in living, in conversations that skirt around dysfunction, and even in my own internal wrestling during night time despair. Our world is torn asunder. Fear promotes political maneuverings. Anxiety dictates pharmaceuticals. School systems turn gray with indecision.
Seriously, in our current climate, who can walk across that graduation stage boldly anymore? Who can dare to face what may come when there are more deadly shootings than ever? We demand that our children strive for an impossible dream, while we work around the clock under digital directives, even as the pay scale slips down. We still quote Dr. Seuss “Oh the Places You’ll Go” even though more college grads than ever return home. Life was tough, now it’s crazy.
But still, we need to make that leap. We need to move away from our past, our old selves, to a graduation of any sort. Martha Beck makes a case for graduating away from our self-criticism, our self-deception, especially our fear, in her recent Oprah article.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that we can never be sure of our virtues, like honesty or compassion, until we face our fears and put them to the test. Over time, we can build our capacity for courage; again, the key is to start small. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? March for peace, sing in public, tell someone you love them? Choose one thing from your list, and on graduation day, do it. Then choose something a bit scarier. Then a bit scarier than that. Each time you’ll get more comfortable—and when you master bravery, every other higher degree will be within your grasp.
Though these subjects may be challenging, I know you’ll graduate with highest honors. And in my experience, each diploma brings a deep sense of accomplishment that motivates you to tackle the next issue (Beck).
As I bear witness to these young people in cap and gown face the crowd, I stand to applaud them; no matter how they got there, they got there. Regardless of the ignorant running our White House and side-tracking our Senate, this Class of 2017 is venturing into spaces and places to tackle climate change and poverty, gun control and starvation, ready to face inequality on every front. They are daring to leave the past behind, and continue to be my everyday inspiration to guide even the most reluctant to cross this stage. This hope in our dark night.