Last night, I took my kids to a graduation party for one of the spectacular young women in my town who has completed high school and is ready to launch into the larger world.
The party was just outside of town on the family’s beautiful ridge top farm. Perched on the top of hill, you can see the valley stretched out before you. It was sunny and still, and in the seventies. Kids ran in gaggles, jumping on the two trampolines, swinging and climbing on the playground equipment or the gigantic tree beside it. Adults and kids alike played volleyball and swam in the pool.
We had strawberry shortcake that a local Amish family made for the party: they grew the strawberries, baked the shortcake. We had premium cream from Organic Valley. Yes, they are the biggest organic coop in the country, but around here, they’re just our neighbors and friends and make the best cream.
At one point, the graduate stepped to the small stage and sang some songs, bringing up various friends and family to sing with her. With her parents, she sang the Dixie Chick’s “Wide Open Spaces.”
My five-year-old was running around, and when she got hurt, someone who knows her (almost everyone there) picked her up and brought her to me. I brought a three-year-old to his father when he couldn’t find him in the crowd.
And we all watched, as we’ve done through the years, the kids slide down the roof of the barn. Yes, the barn.
We looked at the photo spread of the graduate, and many of us could remember or were there for many of the events of her life. She grew up with us. We’ve gotten older with her.
So we gathered to mark this moment with her, with her parents, and with the rest of her family. We gathered to remember what it’s like to strike out on your next big adventure in life, and how much support and love it takes to do it well. We gathered to be with all the people in the community who make up the years of picnics and parties and plays and concerts and camping trips and potlucks together. Who make up a life together.
This time of year, one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with all the excellent young people who are branching out into the world. What a great moment in a life. What a key time for a community to gather and say, “You did it.”
And as we send them off to the next thing, we send our care and commitment to keep building life with them. Maybe from a different proximity. Maybe with a different relationship. But whether one runs off to Europe and another runs off to college, I am so happy to be a part of a place where I suspect that each graduate knows that there will continue to be a home base. A group of adults and families ready to welcome them back.
It’s not that things don’t change; they do all the time. Kids grow up, parents divorce, some people move, some people return. Through it all, there’s a group of people who have built a world together. As a young adult contemplates the larger world, it helps to know that there’s a big group of people who love and support her. And as a family sends one child off, it helps to have a big group of people who love and support them. A group that comes together, happy to keep marking time, singing songs, eating good food, and moving along together.