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Editor's blog: Supporting our 2012 graduates

My 19-year-old nephew is graduating from Poudre High School in Fort Collins in a few weeks.

Graduation ceremonies are so fraught with conflicting emotions. I think about this kid, who only yesterday was collecting rocks and selling them in a roadside stand or collecting and washing errant golf balls from a nearby course and trying to sell those. Let’s just say my nephew has an entrepreneurial streak and I believe it will come in very handy one day.

He’s also a phenomenal skateboarder, snowboarder, graffiti artist and cook. He’s smart, kind, curious, and motivated – in his own way.

I do wonder what he’ll do once he hurls his cap and shelves his gown in a couple weeks. Will he go to college right away? What if he doesn’t? Will he be able to find a job? Will he go to circus school in Venezuela? (Apparently this is a real option) Will he travel the world? Will he stay around town?

As the aunt, I am also in the awesome position of not worrying too much about it.

I care, of course. But he’s clearly ready to be done with school, and taking a break may be the best thing for him. Plus, it’s not my job to worry. It’s my sister’s.

This commencement ceremony also makes me think about my own daughter, who’s 9. She’s about to be a fifth-grader. She’s hitting that stage when you blink, turn around, and there she will be – suitcase in hand – ready to leave home.

She’s an only child, so do tend to lament and remark on every change in her.

This morning, over her ritualistic breakfast of peanut butter-and-honey-slathered-toast, she called me on my propensity to be overly nostalgic. “Mom, blink. Turn around. Am I a teenager?” “No,” I report. Point taken.

My daughter will be next up of the cousins to graduate, though, so I do think about what’s coming. What will be in store for her? How do we continue to support her interests and push her to challenge herself when so many social pressures already compete for her attention? What are the most important things to focus on during the rest of her school-aged years?

As a parent, you almost can’t help wanting your kid to be in advanced classes, to excel at everything, to be publicly celebrated in some way, to get into the best colleges. We are so proud when their achievements are called out.

But I am learning that’s not always in the cards – and may not even be what our children really need.

I have another friend whose son is graduating this spring. He’s a 4.0- plus student, a brilliant young man who’s racked up his share of academic honors. This is a kid who was reading chess strategy books in early elementary school and often preferred to eat at the adult table rather than hang with the kids. He didn’t get into his top choice schools. We are all scratching our heads – but I don’t worry about him, either. He is going to leave Colorado to attend an excellent East Coast college where he will have the space to really learn who he is.

At the end of the day, this is what matters most – figuring out who you are, and what you believe in. There may not be a plaque on a wall in your honor. You may toil away with zero recognition. You might not make a fat salary. But if you know in your heart that what you are doing matters to you, then you’ve figured out a pretty big piece of what it takes to be happy.

So, let’s go out and hug our 2012 graduates, and support them on their journeys – even if we don’t entirely understand what they’re doing, or why. Heck, there are still many things I need to figure out about myself. I guess that’s what they mean by “lifelong learning.” And, like I said, it’s great being the aunt!

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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