I did not attend my high school graduation. My family had a lot on its shoulders. My dad and stepmom were going through a divorce. I was told the Friday before my senior prom that it was over.
Graduation photos are all over my social media feed, and even The New York Times featured prom photos on their front page. High school graduation is no doubt a rite of passage and a major transition in life. But there was no point in pomp and circumstance for me. It would seem my future was not so bright anyways. I was a horrible student. Don't get me wrong, I loved to learn, I just didn't learn well in a classroom. For others, college would be the next logical step, but I barely had the grades to graduate high school.
I clung to the words of Chuck Keller, my junior year English teacher. He had told me, "Your success in high school does not determine your success in life."
I needed those words as I forged ahead. I would be homeless by fall and live two of the hardest years of my life from my car, which I took without permission — from my dad. I raced from town to town in the beat-up Buick Somerset, and I eventually found my footing. Though I would not take any kind of structured, traditional path in life. As my dad would say, I always had to learn the hard way.
My experiences would really inform my parenting.
Both of my daughters felt the constant pressure to attend university after high school. They heard of its importance nonstop at school and they came to dread social functions where they would invariably field the questions "Where do you want to go to college?" or "What do you want to study?"
"How am I supposed to decide what I want to do with my whole life while I'm still in high school?" The eldest vented to me. She decided to take a gap year to work and figure things out. Her sister, on the other hand, just declared to anyone who would ask, "I'm not going to college."
Both had mine and my husband's support as they forged ahead. The truth is that for many kids, high school is something you just have to get through and sometimes it's something you have to recover from. Adolescence is a frightful phase.
The end of high school is the ending of an era that naturally brings an existential developmental crisis. School is all about preparing for life and when high school is over, Mark McConville, Ph.D.Clinical Psychologist and author of the book "Failure to Launch" says, "The primary task of the post-adolescent transition is the dismantling of the old life structure of childhood and the construction of a new adult one in its place."
Having struggled to "launch" myself, I took the pressure off of my kids and let them take the time they needed to figure things out. Meanwhile, I fielded ignorant comments about their choices from well-meaning people. "If she doesn't go to college right away, she'll never go," some said of the gap year. Well, she's in graduate school now.
The one who didn't want to go to college at all works and shares an apartment with her partner. Each is living life on their own terms, navigating the world with their parents' emotional support, regardless of what they choose and how they choose to do it. It's their lives, and their achievements mean that much more, because they've defined their goals on their own. Every path is valid.
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother and award-winning columnist. She is the media director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Find her on social media @WriterBonnie, or email her at [email protected] To find out more about Bonnie Jean Feldkamp and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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