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Graduation & the significance of milestones

“Now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for you being here. Make good art.”
– Neil Gaiman

From beginning to end, the human life is marked by significant milestones. These occur throughout a lifetime, but particularly in childhood and adolescence. From a baby’s first smile or sitting up or first words and walking, to starting school, to learning to ride a bike, to puberty (and arguing with parents about everything) to high school graduation, the number of milestones are too many to count.

Milestones don’t just happen. Each one includes trial and error, determination and perseverance. A baby being able to lift his or her head is remarkable. At birth the head makes up about ¼ of a baby’s overall body. 4 months later, they can hold that head up without help. Proportionally, that would be like me carrying around a 20 kg head. True, I have an oversized noggin, but that would be crazy!

As adults, we have experienced these milestones ourselves and we have seen them happen for others so many times that their special luster might fade. When Kincaid first started walking, it was amazing. I was a bit frustrated with him that he didn’t wait until I had the camera ready to film the very first steps. We got on the phone to tell everyone he was walking. When Liam started walking, I was thrilled, but I don’t know that we even thought to record the steps. When Sammie started walking, I think Tricia told me at dinner, and I said, “Cool. Will you pass me the bread?” It is natural that our awe at milestones diminishes over time, but it is also unfortunate. For each child who learns to walk is just as miraculous as the first human to walk.

One milestone where the luster never seems to tarnish is high school graduation. In education, graduation is the biggest milestone. Graduation ceremonies originally began to recognize the accomplishment of completing university. Then they moved to completing high school. Now it is not unusual to see “graduation ceremonies” for completing middle school, elementary school, and kindergarten. While some people are critical of watering down the meaning of graduation by celebrating simply moving up a grade, I disagree. These ceremonies are not about recognizing a significant academic achievement–they are about recognizing another important milestone in a child’s life. Each year, as our kids move up through the grades, I think, “I can’t believe they are going into (choose a grade) already.” I know that for most children, this is very much on their minds too. Especially as they transition from elementary school to middle school; from middle school to high school; from high school to wherever their path takes them. These transitions are not just simple steps to the next grade, they are important milestones in a young person’s life. They are worth celebrating.

Today is the graduation ceremony for the AAS class of 2020. While there are many young people graduating high school around the world, very few of them have the level of education and life experiences that our 35 AAS graduates enjoy. I am proud of them, and I am honored to say that they are graduates of AAS.

As sure as today’s ceremony is about recognizing their achievement in graduating high school, it is about celebrating this major milestone–the ultimate milestone of childhood/adolescence. From today, our grads move onto the next series of life stages. Just like learning to ride a bike, the next milestones will come with scraped knees, occasionally fear, times of veering in the wrong direction, and finally the joy of success.

Graduating class of 2020, for being able to hold your head up and everything else you have accomplished, I congratulate you.

All students, for the milestones you have achieved this year, celebrate: you deserve it.

“Parenting is a stage of life’s journey where the milestones come about every fifty feet.”
– Robert Brault

Dr. Tim Fries

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