Graduation: The Tassel and the Tears

Watching your student graduate from high school or college can be emotional.

Watching your student graduate from high school or college can be emotional. It's a happy ending and a new beginning.

I wasn't prepared for the tassel. Let me back up. I think I've been handling all this senior stuff pretty well.

I haven't cried in front of people, unless you count that episode in season four of "The Middle" when Axl and his mom have a fight on the way to graduation because he's wearing white socks. I mean, come on. He should change his socks. Then it happened again later in the show when the valedictorian at Axl's graduation quotes Shel Silverstein:

There are no happy endings

Endings are the saddest part.

So just give me a happy middle

And a very happy start.

Who wouldn't cry at that? Robots and the people enjoying Shel Silverstein's royalties, maybe, but that's it. Oh, and then there was that episode of "Parenthood," too, when Drew got his acceptance letter to Cal-Berkeley. But then, the whole point of that show every week is to make viewers cry, so my family didn't seem to notice anything unusual.

Then came the tassel. I was writing at my desk when Brandon came home one day. He had gotten his cap and gown at school. I looked up just as he turned the package over in his hands and I saw it lying there. I don't know what it was about the tassel, but when I saw it, I just started bawling. It was inexplicable. I started laughing, too, you try to ease the awkwardness of the situation. It didn't work. Since I'm not prone to sudden outbursts of weeping, my family stood staring at me with strange expressions. I felt I should explain, so I wailed, "The tassel! It was the tassel! I wasn't ready for the dumb tassel!" I'm sure that cleared everything right up.

I cried again when I made his lunch one last time, just for fun. I thought it would be funny to write a note with a Sharpie on the outside of a brown paper bag, but halfway through, that lunch sack somehow began to embody all the other lunches over the past 13 years. I was in the middle of writing a sentence like, "This is the last high school cafeteria lunch sack of your whole entire life, so tell all your friends I said Hi," and my eyes began to fill. Somehow, I didn't just see the brown paper bag; I saw the Taz lunch box he carried to kindergarten and the Batman lunch box he toted to 2nd grade.

A friend of mine who also has a child graduating this year texted me to say that she unexpectedly fell apart in the car when she heard Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" come on the radio. Naturally, that was funny to me, and I wanted to laugh; but the truth is, none of us know how or when it could hit. It's best we keep our laughter on the inside and not judge each other's pitifulness in such times.

We tend to view crying as something shameful, don't we? Like it's something we should hide or that other people should not do in front of us. Crying makes us uncomfortable. I don't know why that is. After all, God gave us tear ducts for a reason. Solomon was the wisest guy ever and he said there's a time to cry (Eccl. 3:4). Come to think of it, the person who first had the idea of having a slideshow with baby pictures at every senior event must have really liked that verse.

If Solomon was right, then clearly there is a time to cry, and this is one of them. There is nothing wrong or shameful in having some emotional moments when your child is about to graduate from high school. Life is about to change in a pretty big way.

The key, then, is understanding that this is not only a time to cry. It is also a time to laugh, to build up, to dance, to embrace, to speak, and to love-it is always the time to love.

The truth is that we all deal with seasons of sadness, but we do not all handle those seasons with the grace God intended when He invented tears. When God saw forward to your child's graduation month, He didn't intend for sadness to rule over it. King David was well acquainted with sadness, and what God taught him was that, "Crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Ps. 30:5b). Our time to cry goes horribly wrong when we let sadness oppress us or demonstrate itself in angry or irrational words and actions.

Shel Silverstein may have been better at rhyming than Solomon, but it seems he wasn't nearly as wise. For parents, the ending of high school is sad, but that's not all it is. Tassels are not only a symbol of completion; they are a celebration of new things to come.

White socks at graduation aren't just a way for our kids to annoy us; they are a reminder that there are far more important things on which to fix our hearts and minds. And isn't that God's ultimate message in all our endings, anyway?

There are happy endings

Endings can be the best part.

Because with God every ending

Comes an even better start.


Graduation Gifts

This article is courtesy of Parenting Teens Magazine.

Cynthia Hopkins
Cynthia Hopkins is a writer, speaker, and the founder of Platform 320, a nonprofit ministry for women. Cynthia has been writing articles, Bible studies, and devotions for LifeWay for almost 20 years. She is the author of “What Now?” a 30-day book of devotions to help teenagers own their faith after the spiritual high of a camp or retreat experience. Through Platform 320, she leads multi-church women’s retreats, ministry wives retreats, and women’s mission endeavors. Her husband Clay is the associate pastor at their church, FBC College Station, TX. They have two young adult children, Brandon and Abby.