Eighteen years ago, in August, I took - actually carried - my son down the hallway of the school, where I taught at the time, to his kindergarten classroom and deposited him in the doorway in front of his teacher, who was also my friend and colleague. She said not to worry, he would be fine. And she was so right. It only took him a few hours to realize that school was a great place for him to be. That teacher gave him a great start in his educational career. She fought for him to get the best education possible when others doubted his abilities and wanted to wait to see if he "grew out" of this phase. She knew he needed to grow even more and not be allowed to become mediocre. She challenged him academically and encouraged him when his reluctance to try new things sometimes got in the way. What he learned in kindergarten is that it's important to be the best you can be at any age and it helps to have people in your corner.
Five years ago, as my son graduated from high school, we celebrated the ending of a wonderful time in his home town, surrounded by friends, teachers, and family who made such a huge difference in his life. He was fortunate to be in a class where achievement was valued and was the norm, so he was able to let his abilities and work ethic shine, rather than be the subject of ridicule by some who might have tried to make him feel like a geek. He was blessed to have good friends who helped him be a bit more social, with whom he could share many laughs and video games, and who encouraged and supported him in every endeavor he would undertake. He was surrounded by teachers who challenged him and provided him with the skills to pursue his chosen career, and to develop his musical talents that have provided him with lifetime experiences as a part of the K-State Marching Band. He had coaches who taught him the value of perseverance and to push through the pain of preparation and frustration. On that day 5 years ago, we celebrated his accomplishments, wondered what the future would bring, and got ready for the next leg of his life journey. As he closed this part of his life, it was time for a new beginning.
Fast forward 5 years to today. My son's college experience can attest to a couple of important life lessons. While we never doubted his academic abilities, we worried that it might be hard for him to find new friends that were as good for him as the ones he left behind. But that fear soon evaporated when he joined the marching band. The first lesson one can take from my son's experiences is that when you find your "niche" or place that you feel connected and comfortable, you enjoy life and feel like you can do anything! What a great decision he made to be a part of the band. There were lessons learned about hard work and teamwork to produce a quality performance; memorable experiences during band camp, games and bowl trips that will never be forgotten; and leadership opportunities that will serve him long after he turns his tassel. He soon became willing to utilize his talents and stretch himself into areas that he once avoided. It also provided him the opportunity to meet wonderful people who impacted his life as a college student. And the best part is that one of those special people will be by his side forever.
The second lesson was that sometimes life is hard and when those times occur, it is time to buckle down and get the job done. Admittedly, school had been pretty easy for him, so it was a shock to him during his sophomore year when he no longer could just "look over" the material before he took a test and do well. There was the time when his research was bogging him down and he lamented that he should have just graduated last year with his BS and been done. But after a closer look, he knew that end was so near, it was time to push on because ultimately it was best for his career. It reminds me of a locker room slogan I often posted and shared with my students, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
This time of reflection has made me think about endings in my own life - ones that were my idea and ones that were someone else's. No matter how exciting or disappointing those endings might have been, they were just a springboard to new opportunities. Endings are a time of reflection so that we can learn from those experiences, celebrate the successes and the people with whose paths we crossed, and utilize the new foundation on which we can build for the next part of our life. As Joseph Campbell points out, "We have to be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." We must be open to what lies before us because as one door closes another opens.
So this week marks the end of my son's university experience, but it also signals the beginning of his adult life... the real world as we like to remind him. Next year about this time, he will be getting married - an end to his bachelorhood, but a beginning of a lifetime commitment to a wonderful woman. So congratulations on a job well done, son! I hate to see this chapter end because it's been a good one, but at the same time, I can't wait to turn the page and see what happens next! Carpe Diem!