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Who Cares About Graduations?

May and June are the months for graduations. Do you remember yours? Those of your children? Who was the graduation speaker? I had one of the worst – Spiro Agnew. My daughter had one of the best –  John Stewart.

Many universities, colleges, and high schools have rituals and traditions that are ingrained in their commencement ceremonies. These make the ceremony special and more memorable. It also increases your emotional bond with that institution. Those graduating from military academies throw their caps in the air. We (Coast Guard Academy graduates) had to give a silver dollar to the first person saluting us after becoming an officer. Not sure where you would find those now.

Also on a personal level is a little known fact is that my academy moved its graduation date two weeks earlier (than its norm) in 1980 so that we could say that we were the first military service to graduate women. I think that surprised the other Services. It gave us a little recruiting advantage.

Graduations have different meanings for different people. They also spark a wide variety of emotions.  Some of those are relief, pride, anxiety, sadness, and others. The “phases” of team dynamics (form, storm, norm, perform, and in this case … mourn) are a way of looking at this. 

These ceremonies also mark the end of a chapter in our lives. But, what happens after graduation? That depends. A door closes and another opens. Most of us need a pause before we can identify what that new door is and walk through it. Maybe it’s travel and some time off. It could be starting (or finishing) your search for a job. You may have that job already lined up. In a dose of reality, I recently saw an article from a bank CEO that said “Ok, now it’s time to be an adult”.

There are other kinds of graduations though. I think of boot camp, other military “schools”, and even business trainings/workshops. Some of these have mini graduations with sharing of the certificates. For these, there is a clear expectation that you will apply what you have learned to make appropriate behavior changes and improve your performance.

For those of us “observers”, how should we acknowledge the graduate for her/his accomplishment?

Last month I mentioned that “recognition should fit like a glove, not a mitten”.  Therefore, we should personalize how, when, and where we show our happiness and pride. Just this week, I saw a video that when an 8th grader got off the school bus for the last time, his father (with a small band) greeted him by playing “School’s out for the summer”. The kid went and hid.

I really don’t have any earthshaking guidance here. Obviously, if you have anticipated and prepared for this event, you’ll have an easier transition. I would hope that you’ve acknowledged your accomplishment, done some career exploration, found a mentor(s), and figured out how to stay in touch with those near and dear to you. Years later, you’ll see them at reunions.

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