About three years ago, my middle son suddenly started making his bed every morning.
Now, this was a bit surprising to me because I had politely requested, then demanded, then pleaded, then fought him to make that bed every morning since he had become big enough to sleep in his own bed. I’m a German mom, and making our beds is just how we roll. My message to my son went unheeded until suddenly something changed.
What had suddenly changed? As much as I had hoped it was my words that had made the difference, I had enough motherly wisdom to know that some other force had influenced him. Often this is the case when children listen.
The influence was Admiral William H. McRaven from his commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed,” he told the graduates. Google it, and watch the YouTube video—his speech is so worth it.
I confess that I love a good speech, especially a good commencement speech, and yes, this is an odd personal quirk of mine. I think that 2014 UT speech is my favorite to date. Where had this man been all of my mothering life? The Admiral addresses the importance of precision, partnership, persistence, and the pursuit of excellence. I’m so glad someone showed it to my son before he graduated, so I could reap the benefits of him making that bed. There were a lot of great lessons in that speech, not the least of which was simply making your bed.
I was thinking about this on the way to my daughter’s college graduation this past weekend in South Bend, Indiana. It’s a grueling car trip—anywhere from eight to ten hours, depending on Chicago traffic. When she was in high school, I had encouraged her to take her young, barely-birthed-butterfly self freshly emerged from the metamorphism called primary school and the chrysalis of high school to fly far and learn much.
She chose Indiana, land of the fighting Irish, and many times I wondered if my advice was simply more pain than gain as she seemed so far away. I didn’t think we would have to drive through Chicago so much, and traveling to and from school was a difficult process…especially those winter months.
Seeing her walk across that stage and graduate, however, erased any sense of doubt within me. I believe that, to date, there has been no greater sense of hope than seeing my child earn a cap with a tassel, a flowing black gown, and a legitimate diploma. I’m sure many of you, parents, can relate.
She was our firstborn, and as any first-time parent of a high school graduate learns, nothing can prepare you for the day when she—or he—leaves your home at age 18-ish. The silence that follows is deafening, and the knowledge that her home—while still her home—becomes a piece of history rather than a part of the present is painfully poignant.
And yet, this is the march of life, going forward, happening year after year to family after family. Kids grow up; it is a part of parenting. The thing is, you first see it happening to others, but you never quite accept that it will happen to you.
Until it does.
Having younger children, I am at the teeter-totter balance between parenting junior high, high school, and college ages. I look at my refrigerator, now peppered with sweet, youthful, smiling faces announcing their upcoming graduation from high school, and I think about this past year and what graduation means for them.
These youth have lived through a pandemic, new school protocols, sheltering in place, distance learning, social distancing, social unrest, racial injustice, and political turmoil. Plus, you know, the usual high school stuff—academic rigors, first jobs, competitive sports, puberty, driving, and on and on.
In the midst of this, they are growing, developing, and figuring out just who they are, just as we had done. Time marches forward, and when I see our graduates, I realize how precious this time is, and I rejoice that in our future, there is even more hope because of this past year.
This graduation marks an end to high school education that was marred with pandemic fear, uncertainty, and then medical advances and adaptation from COVID-19. I’ll bet most of the graduates don’t even want to say that word again. COVID-19? Barf.
And yet, the time was intertwined with scientific progress, with social justice, with rebirth, renewal, and with hope for change, and, of course, a fresh beginning as 2020 fades in the rearview mirror.
Congrats class of 2021. Spread your hope-filled wings, fly far, and learn much.