Graduation is Just the Beginning

I’ve seen dozens of Facebook comments about and photos of college graduations over the past few days. I’m happy and excited for the new graduates and their families. I remember our younger daughter’s graduation last year, and our older daughter’s graduation four years ago. This summer our older daughter is getting married, and in the next year, she will graduate from graduate school. Both daughters are excited and terrified at the process of becoming adults (and learning that the process comes in sputtering fits and false starts). They are both remarkably mature young women though, and in truth, they seem so much older and wiser than I was when I was in my early to mid twenties.

It seems like a century ago since I received my Ph.D. I was a new mother then, and learning to be both a parent and attempting to find a place in academia, a place I never found. But that is OK–because it gave my other opportunities. I am a different person now, more confident in myself.

Recent articles, such as this one in The Atlantic, have discussed the confidence gap that many women feel. I know my own lack of self-confidence and self-doubt have probably influenced the tract of my career (or lack thereof). I sometimes grimace at some of the things I said and did when I was younger. At the same, I am comfortable with the decisions I’ve made and with who I am. I suspect I am fortunate in this. I have also tried to learn from my mistakes. I have found that to some extent the old adage about wisdom coming with age is true. Not that all elderly people are wise necessarily, but rather that life experience helps to teach us, IF we want to learn. In a comment on someone’s blog recently, I mentioned how I learned from giving a really awful presentation—I learned to trust my own judgment about what should be in my presentation, not what others, who are not experts, tell me they think they want me to discuss.

At the same time, I know I need to push myself to do things, such as presentations. And sometimes, I just have to DO them and take a risk, and ignore the “what ifs.” (Every time I push the “publish” button for a blog post I’ve written, it is preceded by a few seconds of “should I?” doubt.)

There is also the curse of perfectionism. Maybe I need to add one more thing. Maybe I’m not good enough to do this?

I love this quote by Anne Lamott:

“It’s time to get serious about joy and fulfillment, work on our books, songs, dances, gardens. But perfectionism is always lurking nearby, like the demonic prowling lion in the Old Testament, waiting to pounce. It will convince you that your work-in-progress is not great, and that you may never get published. (Wait, forget the prowling satanic lion — your parents, living or dead, almost just as loudly either way, and your aunt Beth, and your passive-aggressive friends, whom we all think you should ditch, are going to ask, “Oh, you’re writing again? That’s nice. Do you have an agent?”)”

And I’ve faced this, too–the people who think I don’t work because my I write from home, and my schedule is flexible. Sometimes. Thank goodness for deadlines, right?

So new graduates, I have no advice for you. Because really, who am I to give you advice? All I can say is this: Live your life. Be the best you that you can be. You will make mistakes, but continue on, and learn from them, if you can. Oh yes, and one more thing, cherish your friends and loved ones. The ones who truly love you will love you even when you make mistakes. They will also give you confidence boosters and an occasional “go do it already” kick-in-the-butt—which, let’s face it, is sometimes the thing we need the most. Well, along with coffee, chocolate, and wine.

I’m pushing “publish” now. Let me know what you think. And now I better get to work.





20110309131133“the month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.  For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May, in something to constrain him to some manner of thing more in that month than in any other month, for divers causes. For then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman, and likewise lovers call again to their mind old gentleness and old service, and many kind deeds that were forgotten by negligence.”

-Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur

In southern New Jersey, where I live, spring is in full force. Gone are the early harbingers, the crocuses, snowbells, and daffodils—we’ve moved on! Now tulips, azaleas, and other late spring flowers dot the landscape, along with the last of the flowering trees, still adorned with petals of pink or white. They sway lightly in the breeze like a ballerina’s tulle skirt, strong and fragile. The leaves on the trees are still mostly small and that yellow-green that exists only in the spring; the trees have not yet donned their larger and darker summer-green raiment.

The days are sunny and bright. The nights are cool and still require a blanket. There is hope in the gentle spring breezes. It floats in the air and sings a duet with the birds.

It is all so beautiful. My heart rejoices in the loveliness and makes me feel reborn.  This is the season of rebirth. A few nights ago my husband saw scores of bats swarm into the evening sky. According to what I’ve read, they are now emerging from hibernation and looking for suitable areas to set up their “maternity wings.” I hope they stick around and eat the mosquitoes that will soon be taking over our backyard.

Death and rebirth. These themes appear in religions and cultures throughout the world. The Corn Mother dies so that corn can appear to feed her children.  “The circle of life.”  “To every thing there is a season.” “And the seasons they go round and round.” These ideas are almost—but not quite—clichés. We all know that the seasons go round and round, but every one of us experiences it differently. Every birth or death of a loved one is unique. It doesn’t matter how many times it has happened before. The first steps or first words of your own children are minor miracles—to parents and grandparents, but not to anyone else.

Death and rebirth. There is a personal connection for me in May. My father died in May years ago when our daughters were young. He did not live to see them grow up to become amazing and wonderful young women.  Our daughters were conceived in May. Yes, “the lusty month of May.” Ahem. Death and rebirth.

In the United States, May is the month of college graduations–death and rebirth of another sort. The ceremony during which academic degrees are dispersed is called “commencement.” It is the end of a course of study, and the beginning of a new life.  Three years ago, our older daughter graduated from college, and in a couple of weeks, our younger daughter will do so. Millions have gone through this ritual, but to us, the proud parents, these two graduations are unique and wondrous, as they should be. One daughter has embarked upon her “grown up” life, and the other will soon do so. I am incredibly proud of them. 

In May, we see life reborn, both literally and metaphorically. In May we are restored, “for then all herbs and trees renew a man and woman.” And although we cannot go back, we can continue to hope and dream. As Joni Mitchell wrote:

“There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.”


“When joy like these salute the sense,

And bloom and perfume fill the day,

Then waiting long hath recompense,

And all the world is glad with May.”

–John Burroughs, “In May”