Appreciating the Emotions of Graduation

Group of high school students in caps & gowns for graduation

As we enter the season for graduations, most of us are enjoying the celebrations of a significant mission accomplished in the lives of our kids who have arrived at a pivotal time in their lives.

We love the stories of their achievements. We enjoy their graduation ceremonies. We bring together family and friends for parties to honor their accomplishments. We participate in giving them gifts to affirm that they have reached a significant life milestone.

We know that they are largely gratified and relieved that this part of their life journey is over.  Whether they have graduated from high school or from a university, there has been a great deal of work, labor and effort to reach the moment where they receive their diploma. For many of our students at Lakeside, our students have overcome incredible obstacles in order to graduate. For many of our students, they never thought they would reach this elusive goal.

So, for them they have concluded a part of their life that was extremely difficult, yet very rewarding. 

Still, in the midst of all the achievements, there is also a mixed set of emotions that come with this kind of life inflection point. The emotions of fear, loss and discouragement or depression often accompany the emotions of graduation. There is a fear of an uncertain future with all the challenges of what is next and for some, not having clear direction or options. There is the potential loss of friendships and the routines that have been defined for them for so many years. The schedules of life have been planned and now with graduation they will have lost those habits and routines, causing uncertainty to know how to navigate what is next. 

It is not unusual for any of us to finish a project or achieve a major goal and then experience a let-down in our emotions. There is a bit of an identity crisis that can occur because our purpose has changed radically. It usually is temporary until we find another mission but for a young person it sometimes takes a period of time before a new purpose becomes defined. This interim time can be filled with uncertainty, discouragement and depression. It makes sense that this transitional period can be difficult to navigate emotionally. 

It is important for parents and caregivers to recognize this transitionary period where some emotions may not seem congruent to something as positive as a graduation achievement. Sometimes these mixed emotions can spiral which is a very vulnerable time for our students as they reach this perplexing time of life with all the fanfare and some unsettling emotions.

Let’s also acknowledge that for many parents, this is also a very difficult time. Parents and caregivers have been dedicated to getting their kids through high school or college. Their identities are also in transition as they witness their child growing into adulthood with all the challenges that any young adult will face as they move into lasting relationships, career decisions and other life choices which will determine the trajectory of the rest of their lives.  This can be just as fearful for parents as it is for their students. 

The emotions of graduation can be very powerful and life-defining. It is important that we gain a realization and some clarity about what is going on for both students and their parents. It is important to recognize and express those feelings and emotions as we navigate this part of our life journey together as families.

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