It’s June, which means “graduation season” for parents, grandparents and students. This year is especially resonant for my wife and me, as our son graduated from high school, and we celebrated with a modest open house for our son, family and close friends.
“Modest” was the compromise negotiated with our son, who had respectfully asked us a number of months before, “What’s the big deal? It’s just high school.” His question brought back memories of similar feelings from my own high school graduation party. And since high school graduation wasn’t a big deal in India, it’s possible immigrants and their children see a high school graduation party as unnecessary. This would make a middle school graduation celebration — or kindergarten graduation — seem ridiculous!
Why do we celebrate high school graduation in America? Isn’t high school just a step everybody takes before heading off to college and then graduate school? If the ultimate goal is an MD, JD or PhD, shouldn’t we wait until then to make a big deal out of anything?
As I thought about how to respond to our son, I realized that celebrating any graduation — high school or otherwise — is meaningful for at least three reasons that are critical to success in our careers, and life in general:
- 1.Celebrating victories
- 2.Expressing gratitude
- 3.Enjoying the journey
“When we celebrate our wins in life, the more we have in life to celebrate.” — Oprah Winfrey
Indians and Indian-Americans tend to place a high degree of emphasis on education. We churn out doctors, lawyers and advanced degree professionals like a high-capacity assembly line. In doing so, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that a student’s quest is anything but easy.
Pausing to celebrate any victory (even an interim one) helps us to see the progress we’ve made. Recognizing progress is critical in building our confidence towards attaining ambitious goals and motivating us to keep moving forward towards them. Celebrating each graduation (from pre-Kindergarten on up) allows us all to look back and celebrate our student’s growth and progression, giving them confidence and motivation to keep moving forward. Celebrating graduation also provides them an example of how to celebrate victories, a lesson that they can take with them to build their own confidence and sustain their drive and motivation as they get older.
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” — John F. Kennedy
Developing ‘an attitude of gratitude’ and expressing that gratitude is arguably one of the most essential human qualities. Not only can expressing gratitude bring a calm sense of well-being, it is the beginning of courtesy, concern and appreciation for others, which creates empathy and the virtuous cycle of connection and support that we crave as humans. A graduation party delivers a ‘win-win’ in this department.
First, the party is for more than the graduate. It is an opportunity for the parents to express gratitude to the entire “village” of family and friends that helped them and their graduate achieve the milestone being celebrated. While the graduate did much of the work, they did so with the help of a massive support group of aunties/uncles, dada/dadis, nana/nanis and so many more. From babysitting and after-school pickups to tutoring and motivational speeches, every party invitee and attendee contributed to the graduate’s journey. This party is a time for the parents and graduate to express their gratitude to all the attendees and for the attendees to celebrate their collective achievement.
Second, this expression of gratitude can also demonstrate the importance of being grateful and provide them opportunities to express their gratitude in meaningful ways. Not only the act of thanking guests during the party for their contributions and their presence, but also after the party, with a meaningful note of appreciation for their time and, in many cases, generous gift. A graduation party is a great time to teach or remind your youngster that many contribute to their success.
Enjoying the journey
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” — Arthur Ashe
When asked what they most want for their children, most parents reply with some form of “to be happy” or “to enjoy life.” For most of us, “Being happy” or “having joy” or “feeling contentment/satisfaction/fulfillment” is our ultimate purpose. However coaches, self-help gurus and philosophers teach us that happiness can be a state of mind during our journey, not just a statement of success upon reaching our destination.
So, do we want our children to ‘be happy’ in the present moment or do we hope they will ‘become happy’ at some point in the future? If the goal is for our children to ‘be happy’ and enjoy their journey, there is no better way than to model that mindset through our own thoughts, words and actions.
Throwing a graduation party, or any party for even a trivial event (or for no reason at all), allows us to simply enjoy a moment of human connection with our loved ones. The graduation party simply provides an excuse to enjoy life — the one thing we claim to desire most for our children.
As I relayed my response to my son, I realized that our modest graduation party was a great gift, and a great education, for him and for me. Here’s to a joyful graduation season!