Standing there with a huge lump in my throat I watched my 18 year old son step forward to receive his high school diploma. I was okay until they called his name and announced the university he’d be going to, and then in that split second the pride I felt for him overwhelmed me and the lump became big enough to choke a horse.

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Standing there with a huge lump in my throat I watched my 18 year old son step forward to receive his high school diploma.  I was okay until they called his name and announced the university he’d be going to, and then in that split second the pride I felt for him overwhelmed me and the lump became big enough to choke a horse.

 

The Hilo Hawaii weather was perfect, the ceremony well done, and after a long plane flight the day before I was standing there watching my third son graduate high school knowing that in a few days time we’d be leaving the island for the mainland together. Together we’ll start a new life for both of us in Central Illinois where we’ll be joining my second son who’s a high school calculus teacher in the same town. Really, how could a father be more fortunate?

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Class 2011 of the Saint Joseph High School consisted of 28 graduates.  It’s not a big school, but you can immediately feel it’s a close school.  The type of school where faculty and students form a close tightknit bond which will last a lifetime.

 

Class 2011 of the Saint Joseph High School consisted of 28 graduates. It’s not a big school, but you can immediately feel it’s a close school. The type of school where faculty and students form a close tightknit bond which will last a lifetime.

 

The Hilo Hawaii weather was perfect, the ceremony well done, and after a long plane flight the day before  I was standing there watching my third son graduate high school knowing that in a few days time we’d be leaving the island for the mainland together.  Together we’ll start a new life for both of us in Central Illinois where we’ll be joining my second son who’s a high school calculus teacher in the same town.  Really, how could a father be more fortunate?

It was somewhat amusing listening to the Principal and other speakers attempt to put a fresh spin on age old speeches recited in thousands of high schools nationwide this time of year, every year for as long as our grandparents and their grandparents graduated high school.

 

It was somewhat amusing listening to the Principal and other speakers attempt to put a fresh spin on age old speeches recited in thousands of high schools nationwide this time of year, every year for as long as our grandparents and their grandparents graduated high school.

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Strangely absent was any mention of the two wars our nation is currently involved in, our teetering economy, a first black president, or anything about current events and/or politics at all. Instead, there was mention of friendships, and closeness, and bright futures. And yes, being a Catholic school “God” and even “Jesus” were mentioned a few times without any ACLU lawyers jumping out of the woodwork on the attack to promote their favored religion of Atheism.

 

28 “winners” with bright futures. Unusually pretty women and awkwardly handsome young men. As each name was called to present the graduate with his/her diploma the presenter also announced what scholarships and awards they’d earned, and what university they’d be attending. 28 bright young faces. All proud, happy, and supportive of each other. Yet, some registered just the smallest amount of disappointment. There was an elephant in the room and no one was talking about it. You see, not every student had already been awarded a scholarship or won an award. Some merely graduated, while others received more awards then they had hands to carry.

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28 “winners” with bright futures.  Unusually pretty women and awkwardly handsome young men.  As each name was called to present the graduate with his/her diploma the presenter also announced what scholarships and awards they’d earned, and what university they’d be attending.  28 bright young faces.  All proud, happy, and supportive of each other.  Yet, some registered just the smallest amount of disappointment.  There was an elephant in the room and no one was talking about it.  You see, not every student had already been awarded a scholarship or won an award.  Some merely graduated, while others received more awards then they had hands to carry.

I’m sure they were well earned, and I’m sure the school itself provided equal opportunity for all their students.  But I couldn’t help feeling only part of the story was being told.  In fact I knew it wasn’t.  Allow me to explain.

Some years back I was a high school counselor who specialized in “high risk” teens.  Young students who had issues such as teenage pregnancy, alcohol and/or drug use, criminal charges, in short these kids were at an unusually high risk of destroying their lives before they ever realized they’d started.

 

During my time as a counselor I learned there was one commonality they all shared.  Either their parents didn’t care enough to spend time with them, or something else was preventing the parents from communicating with their children.  These “high risk” teens were great kids and they yearned for an adult to listen to them.  It didn’t matter what they wanted to talk about, it was just the willingness to listen which made the difference.  I suspect most of their parents had no idea how strongly these teens needed their attention.

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During my time as a counselor I learned there was one commonality they all shared.  Either their parents didn’t care enough to spend time with them, or something else was preventing the parents from communicating with their children.  These “high risk” teens were great kids and they yearned for an adult to listen to them.  It didn’t matter what they wanted to talk about, it was just the willingness to listen which made the difference.  I suspect most of their parents had no idea how strongly these teens needed their attention.

You see, while the school itself provided equal opportunity, there is much more to every students life which can have a greater impact on their scholastic performance than the school itself. What type of family, family strength, their method and frequency of communication, if the family is intact or separated. Is the parent an addict of some type, an abuser, or in some way dysfunctional. If illnesses required the students to care for their parents or siblings, if financial woes required their taking of a job, or if family strife was present to the level it was distracting the student, all these factors make the playing field impossibly uneven.

 

You see, while the school itself provided equal opportunity, there is much more to every students life which can have a greater impact on their scholastic performance than the school itself. What type of family, family strength, their method and frequency of communication, if the family is intact or separated. Is the parent an addict of some type, an abuser, or in some way dysfunctional. If illnesses required the students to care for their parents or siblings, if financial woes required their taking of a job, or if family strife was present to the level it was distracting the student, all these factors make the playing field impossibly uneven.

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Without knowledge and consideration of these factors just how indicative of a graduates future potential are these extra scholarships and awards?  Without knowing the students ability to perform despite distractions, their desire to overcome often severe disadvantages, and to keep going forward towards their goal, without knowing..  how can we possibly predict the potential of the graduates with any accuracy at all?

We can’t.  The school can’t know all these factors and it’s not supposed to.  So the scholarships and awards are handed out based on what they do know.  Yet, I maintain they only know a small subset of what the student had to overcome to achieve what they did.  Which leaves a lot of unacknowledged potential to be discovered.

In my years with the military I was often the one doing the discovering.  And when it came to true desire, heart, and the grit it took to accomplish the mission above all else, it was most often those very kids who went unrecognized and had to overcome so much at home who then excelled above all others.  Overcoming adversity and honing resilience are two skills sets most of the “honoree’s” at high school graduations hadn’t yet learned.  But these skills were acutely present in those who merely graduated.  And often in those who didn’t.

 

In my years with the military I was often the one doing the discovering.  And when it came to true desire, heart, and the true grit it took to accomplish the mission above all else, it was most often those very kids who went unrecognized and had to overcome so much at home who then excelled above all others.  Overcoming adversity and honing resilience are two skills sets most of the “honoree’s” at high school graduations hadn’t yet learned.  But these skills were acutely present in those who merely graduated.  And often in those who didn’t.

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Congratulations Class of 2011!  We’re impressed with those who earned scholarships and awards, and as life catches up with reality I’m sure we can expect great things from all the graduates as each comes into their own.

But what really impressed me was your closeness, your focus on each other as you defined your own family within an institution, and your acceptance of each other as equals despite the traditional practices which tend more to segregate than their intended purpose to recognize.

Of course I was especially proud of my son and the ‘lump’ was for him.  But I was proud of all of you, and we’d only met today.  Tomorrow is looking especially bright!

Until next time..