Andrew Fiala

To parents of graduates: We did it! They move on with life, we hold onto memories

Estephanie Salcedo raises her arm in triumph after getting her sash at the Latino graduation at Fresno City College.
Estephanie Salcedo raises her arm in triumph after getting her sash at the Latino graduation at Fresno City College.
Both of my sons are graduating this year—one from high school, the other from college. Just yesterday, it seems, we dropped the eldest off at kindergarten. He cried. So did we. Today the tears are welling up again.

Graduation columns usually offer advice for the graduate. But this one is for those who sit in the stands cheering. Here’s to the parents. We did it! Our job as parents is coming to an end. Let’s savor the moment. This joy will sustain us when the house grows quiet and lonely.

Andrew Fiala Fresno Bee file

We were pretty dumb about parenting at first. We had to learn how to change diapers and manage fevers. Soon we were researching day care. Next thing you know it was braces and summer camps.

We learned as we went. We made mistakes. Some of our kids will need therapy. Others will need money. Well, they always need money. And we give it to them, as we’ve always done.

Let’s admit that we never quite figured them out. Their pleasures and anxieties are different from ours. We had MTV. They have video games, Youtube, and Instagram. We had Monica Lewinsky. They have Stormy Daniels. We had the Cold War. They have school shootings.

Each generation has its own problems. Their problem is making a living and building a life. Our problem is learning to live in an empty nest.

Today we cheer as they cross the commencement stage. Tomorrow they will be off on their journey. Their story is just beginning. We are minor characters now, to be left behind in the opening chapters. To be a parent is to become obsolete.

A parent’s job is to build up and then let go. Each milestone is a triumph but also a departure. They clenched their fists around our fingers. Soon they were stumbling across the room without us. We took off the training wheels and they rode off down the street. We bandaged their wounds. And they were quickly off again.

The future belongs to the young. Every nest eventually ends up empty. For a parent, graduation is a wistful mix of pride and loss. Hope and joy mingle with a sense of our own mortality.

We remember our own graduation days. There was more hair back then and slimmer waistlines. We partied and paraded with youthful swagger. At that moment we were on top of the world. Our own parents stood in the driveway waving. We barely looked in the rearview mirror. They bragged of our accomplishments. We were too busy to call home.

This is how it goes. Parents are destined to sit on the sidelines cheering. We’ve been cheering them on for as long as they’ve been with us — at pageants and plays, concerts and contests, soccer games and spelling bees.

This is their hour in the sun. We glow in their reflected light. Our children are the celebrities of our families. They are the focal point of our energy and enthusiasm.

Consider the pictures. Senior portraits hang in the living room. Baby pictures sit on a shelf. Somewhere else there are countless images of our children’s lives: the first day of school, a lost tooth, a camping trip. We’ve recorded all of the parties, proms, parades, and prize ceremonies.

Our kids will rarely look at these pictures. But we will. Memory is for the old. The young are too busy living to look back.

Mister Rogers once said, “often when you think you are at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something else.” He explained that this was the wisdom granted to those who embrace life and care for others. Life is a dance of hope and fear, sadness and delight. This is what Emerson called the wisdom of circles. Every action exists to be outdone. Every end is also a beginning. As one circle is completed, another is being drawn.

So here we are at this high point of the journey — not only for our children but also for us. Congratulations graduates, you did it! We, your parents, are the foundation from which you leap. Today we’ll celebrate together. Tomorrow you will say goodbye and a new circle will be drawn.

Andrew Fiala is a professor of philosophy and director of The Ethics Center at Fresno State: @PhilosophyFiala