Amy Roberts: A dad’s lasting graduation advice
Red Card Roberts
This last week my social media feeds were inundated with photos of toddlers in a cap and gown, 10-year olds posing with diplomas and high school graduates behind the wheel of a shiny new car.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t have kids, but I’ve always thought celebrating the “graduation” of a three-year old a bit much. What did they graduate from exactly? Training pants?
A high school graduation celebration makes more sense, though I’ll never be convinced a basic understanding of geography or algebra is worthy of a new BMW or two-month trip to Europe. But that seems to the standard now for being able to proficiently use Google along with copy and paste keys.
A friend of mine has a daughter who graduated last week, and I took her to lunch to congratulate her. She asked me what high school was like, “back in the olden days.”
She wanted to know how we wrote a paper before the internet. I mentioned encyclopedias, typewriters and microfiche and immediately felt like my grandfather must have when he would tell me about his one-room school house and walking barefoot five miles to class, uphill both ways.
The conversation switched to graduation gifts. She informed me graduates now often register, much like a couple does for a wedding. It’s common for the parties to be catered; valet service isn’t unheard of. I learned how most of her friends were getting new cars, or a fancy trip for graduation. Some of the girls in her class received the plastic surgery of their choice as a gift from their parents. She didn’t flinch when she told me this, it had become far too common for her to consider it anything other than normal.
Our lunch got me thinking about my high school graduation. I tried to remember the small party my parents threw for me. Our family, a few friends and teachers showed up. There was a cake and a table with photos of me. Some guests brought a card, and if I was lucky, it contained a $20 bill. I tried to imagine my dad handing me keys to a new car, or dropping me off to get a new set of boobs. I couldn’t picture it. I can’t even picture him dropping me off to get a manicure.
My parents are pretty practical people. Other than my college education, their gift to me was a laundry basket and a roll of quarters. In the bottom of basket was a letter from my dad. “Don’t open until your first day of college,” he wrote on the envelope.
A few months later we all stood in my dorm room 1,000 miles away. My mom and I were tearful, my dad stoic. It was time for them to go, and time for my new life to start. They were standing inches from me, but I already missed them.
That night in my dorm, I felt homesick and alone. I had been so anxious to establish my independence, to get out of Nebraska and my parents home, I never considered it might be difficult to do so. Eighteen year olds have a way of underestimating these things.
As I unpacked my belongings, I found the note my dad had put in my laundry basket back in May. This is what it said:
I hope you know this isn’t as easy as I make it look. I want you to stay close, so I can always look out for you. But I know you need this distance to become the woman you are meant to be: Independent, curious, intelligent, compassionate.
Here is my advice for you as you embark on this new journey. Always remember:
- If it feels wrong, it is.
- Stand up for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.
- Know your worth and don’t offer anyone any discounts.
- Never co-sign on a loan for a boy.
- You can do anything a man can do. You can change a tire, major in physics or be the president.
- If there’s a chance you could end up on “Dateline,” don’t do it.
- Study just a little more than you think you need to.
- When posing for photos, assume the only people who will see them are me, your mother, and the dean of admissions.
- Boys will come and go. So will friends. But I will always be here for you.
More than 23 years later, I can say with certainty, that was the best graduation gift I could have ever received.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”