My son was one of the roughly 1.9 million students receiving his bachelor’s degree this year. As I sat at his commencement last weekend, I thought of my Mother, who has passed, who assuredly would have told me he was the most special one of all.
My son is indeed special. He is resourceful, kind, intelligent and resilient. My guess is every parent fortunate enough to be at their child’s commencement was thinking the same thing.
My son had his fair share of challenges during his four years at college. During his Freshman year, his Nana died. His Senior year, his brother passed. In between there were sports related injuries and surgery. Loss of fellow students to suicide. This is his narrative, and he’s not unique in having experienced challenges.
The incidence of anxiety, depression, disordered eating, death by suicide – study after study show these rates, especially among college students, are rising. Anecdotally, we hear stories from friends and neighbors, whether live or on social media.
And yet, I’m hopeful.
Why? Because at least we’re having this conversation. It may be uncomfortable – and that’s ok. Stepping into the discomfort is part of our growth. Creating safe space for conversation and action about challenging topics – be it online resources, Advocacy Walks/Runs, or community support groups – all of these help us know we’re not alone. I appreciate the resources available to me as a parent, helping me recognize warning signs and things I can do to help my children recognize the importance of prioritizing their wellness.
I’m a yogi, and this practice is part of my physical, mental and emotional wellness plan. Part of my process is to recognize the experiences I’ve had in my life are just that – experiences. It doesn’t diminish the emotions of grief, sadness or despair; but it does allow me to recognize these are emotions, allow them to run through me, so that I can be present for life.
Leading up to my older son’s commencement, I admittedly struggled. My emotions quickly vacillated from being so happy for my older son while deeply mourning my younger son. The week leading up to commencement I was concerned the grief would win out and I wouldn’t be fully present for my graduating son.
And yet, when the day arrived, I found myself fully present. Thank goodness I was, for I would have missed out on so much. Guest speaker Sheryl Sandberg encouraged the graduates to remember the technology they build is to serve people. The Class President spoke of his multicultural experiences during his four years at school and the importance of being a global citizen.
These themes – about people and being of service to one another – give me additional hope. But most of all, had I not been present, I would have missed the gleam in my son’s eye as he walked into the Commencement Ceremony, the bear hug he gave me at the end.
My Mother used to say, “Life isn’t always easy.” And it’s not. But these are our lives we’ve been blessed with. Being present at my son’s Commencement was a reminder for me that life is a series of beginnings and endings. The joy we find in the moments in between – this is the sweetness of life.