Once again this week, I have been thinking about graduations. Graduation is the main topic of discussion for many of my patients. I have attended seven more graduations since Monday, most of them for Algonquin College. Last Monday, I wrote about what I could tell from graduate’s shoes. This week, I looked up, into the bright and shining faces of graduates, and I listened to many tell me what their graduation means for them and their family.

Most people who cross the stage to receive a degree or diploma are beaming with happiness, but a few are tearful. Someone I spoke with told me she just couldn’t believe that she had “finally made it”. She said that she didn’t realize that she was finished until she moved forward on the stage to get her degree. She spoke to me about how hard she had been working, studying for her exams, writing her last papers and still working retail to pay her bills. She received notice by email that she would be graduating, but kept going, working hard just to get everything done. When her parents arrived for the ceremony, there were dinners and packing and visits with friends. She told me, ”The first time I sat down in weeks was in that auditorium. I began to realize what was happening. When I finally was on the stage and my name was called, I started to cry and couldn’t stop crying.” That determination will serve this new doctor well as she starts her residency. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, ”You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The parents of high school students who have been my patients timidly approached me, to thank me for coming to their child’s high school graduation. Their son had wept crossing the stage. The young people crossing this high school stage have had an especially hard time, with illness and learning disabilities and life. I wouldn’t miss their graduation for the world. I feel so honoured to have been invited.

There were two especially happy moments for me personally in these graduations.

My son earned his Masters’ Degree. We took him to dinner. He left an hour into dinner to pick up his gown and hood. I could help but tear up when he came back to the restaurant wearing these. I am so proud of him. He’s one of those people who knows how to dress up and he looked so handsome. He always “wears his thinking cap with his party shoes.” (Quote from Denise Keller)

The second moment was with the son of a good friend, who graduated from Practical Nursing at Algonquin College, with Honours. I was able to greet him from my spot on the platform and give him a hug and get a special picture. I am so proud of him too, although I felt badly that I was able to hug him before his Mom did.

When you know personally the people graduating, and especially if they’re your child or someone you’ve known since they were a child, the enormity of what they’ve accomplished is awesone. Their success is a fine moment to celebrate.

I have been so moved by these graduations and for the first four (I attended thirteen graduations in all.), I could not figure out why I found them so inspiring, so heartening. On Tuesday evening, however, someone asked me what I liked so much about graduations. In replying to them, I found the answer. I realized that I spend so much of my time with young people on the worst days of their lives and that it has been wonderful to be with them on some of the best.

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