“Morning brings back the heroic ages. There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world. . .for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Teaching seniors is a bit like starring in Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day: Every year repeats. College applications, college decisions, football season, college visits, financial aid, scholarship applications, housing deposits, roommate surveys, senioritis, prom, senior awards.
And, finally, graduation.
Every year I send another class off to a new stage of their lives, watch them shed high school like it’s a poorly fitting skin and grown wings of a beautiful new life.
It’s pretty much crazy times: “Isgitt! Where do I get my phone after this is over? How do I find my mom? When will we get our diplomas? I’m so nervous! What if I trip? Which is the front of this cap? How do I get this weird collar-looking thing to stay in place?”
I always find myself pensive around graduation day. Don’t get me wrong: in spite of the inevitable emotional roller coaster that the school year can be, I adore high school seniors. I never get tired of dressing up in regalia for the ceremony, snapping pictures with my phone since theirs are contraband, helping them bobby pin those caps in place, and watching each and every one of them make it across the stage in spite of nerves and brand new 5 inch wedges.
But I also remember my own high school graduation and how anticlimactic it seemed. I remember that my best friend Jenni and I sang a duet. I remember that one of my favorite teachers gave the keynote address. I remember that I had to wear a white (who thinks that’s a good idea?) graduation gown and give a red rose to my mother.
Actually, I’m pretty sure I remember most of that from the video I purchased. On VHS. Otherwise I’m not sure why I would remember myself watching myself sing.
Recently I saw two former students while I was out shopping. I asked them about their majors and the possibility of grad school. They will both be college seniors this coming year, so we were of course talking about next steps. I’m sure that college students tire quickly of the questions: “What’s your major? What do you want to do with that?” I always feel self-conscious as I ask those questions.
I’ve wondered lately, perhaps because of that self-consciousness, why do we stop asking people what they want to be or do when they grow up? Why do we believe that these artificial markers of life change have so much power over us? Is there something divinely ordained about high school or college graduation? We invented high school in America after all, only about 100 years ago. Why is it that when I talk to another adult, I don’t ask them about their plans for the future?
The problem with life markers is that they can become an excuse for wasting life on either side. Before the “big day,” we might wish the days away, barely putting forth effort into activities or relationships we have now. After the big day, we might feel let down and moderately depressed because we don’t really feel all that different. Or we might just repeat the cycle all over again waiting for the next big life marker.
Eventually, those big days will run out. High school, college, grad school, wedding, births. There are only so many of these. Not nearly enough for my taste. I want to be able to reinvent myself more often than that.
So what would be a better marker of a new stage of life?
I propose sunrise.
What would it mean if I thought of every day as graduation day?
- It means that every day I would ask myself what I want to be today. Every day I think: How can I be a new person today? What do I want to do today that will impact my life? What can I do today that will have an impact for good on the lives of others?
- It would mean that I would commit to asking other people, no matter their age or station in life, what they want to do with their lives, to never stop asking about their goals, hopes, and dreams. I would focus on being present with and paying attention to others.
- It means that I will be open to opportunities that aren’t in my life plan and open to changes that I didn’t choose.
- It means that I would learn something every day, even if it’s small. I would be open to new ideas and challenges.
- It would mean that I give myself permission to take risks and maybe even fail. No, not maybe, but likely. I would know that I only have to wait a few hours to reinvent myself again.
I was eating dinner with my husband the other night and I started thinking about this idea. I asked him, “Hey, so why can’t every day be graduation day?”
“Well, I might hurl from all the cheesy quotes, “ he replied, “but okay.”
On that note, here’s a quote that’s not cheesy at all, from one of my life heroes, Mother Teresa. If anyone knew how to make every day of her life count, she surely did:
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”