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The Grief in Graduation

Graduation isn’t a word that generally brings Grief to mind.

However, “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”

Graduation is an end. Classes are done, diplomas received, degrees attained, master’s mastered. We throw huge celebration parties, especially for high school, we shower graduates with gifts, mostly money, and we excitedly demand to know their future plans, their next goals, what job they have landed.

And no one talks about the other side of graduation.

The end. The change. Normal is no more.

For high school students, this was the most important time of their lives, thus far.

How does this create Grief?

If this felt like the best time of your life, would you be happy that it’s ending?

If this was the worst time of your life, maybe you were bullied, and everyone just moved on and forgot about your misery, justice undelivered, would graduation really be a relief?

And that question, “what are your plans after…?” No pressure!

Oh, I’m not at all saying don’t celebrate. Please celebrate! To finish high school, college, master’s or doctorate is simply amazing. Each student overcame obstacles, each fought for their diploma, and we need to acknowledge their work. Side note, do that without comparisons. We can chat about that another time.

What I’m trying to share is that these wonderful celebrations and milestones are more complicated than just being joyful.

Your student, whether 18 or 28, or 48, needs the safety to share if there is fear, if there is sadness, if the end or change of their multi-year normal behavior is producing feelings other than great joy. And they need to know that there is nothing wrong with them if there is.

They need a safe ear for basking in the moment without rushing toward the future, to express apprehension of the unknown, to lament the moments not seized in the last few years, relationships gained or lost, both successes and failure, all without judgment or criticism.

So while you’re throwing or just attending the graduation celebration, remember that this, like so many other situations in our lives, is a complicated moment, and be open to supporting your grad in all the emotions, not just the happy ones.

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