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I don't remember many details of high school graduation, but I recall the feelings associated with graduating and preparing to move onto the next phase of my life.

There are only a few events in life that rival the exhilaration, excitement and anticipation that come in those last few weeks of high school.

As an 18-year-old, I felt a sense of freedom and independence. I knew I'd be going to school six hours from home and there would be no one (i.e. parents) to watch my every move, nag me about homework, remind me about curfews or tell me money doesn't grow on trees. As it turns out, it was just as awesome as I anticipated ... but also a lot more work.

It didn't occur to me until today what it must have been like for my parents. I spoke to a mom who is sending her oldest, her daughter, to college in the fall. The past few months have been spent gearing up for her daughter's graduation. My friend has been in a funk and when I asked if everything is OK, she broke down in tears.

I always assumed my parents were relieved when they were one child closer to an empty nest. I mean, when you've spent the better part of your 20s and 30s raising four children and you're at the point where they are starting to venture out on their own, aren't you happy for the extra space?

But being a parent now myself, I can imagine it was tough for my parents to "let go." When parents are faced with a graduating child, I imagine there is a lot of reflecting, a lot of "whew, I'm glad we made it through that!" and even a few "what if's?"

If nothing else, parents should be proud of the fact that they've navigated adolescent and teen years successfully enough that their child is graduating from high school.

I've read several accounts in which parents agree graduation is bittersweet, regardless of whether their child is heading off to college, staying at home to attend community college or jumping right into the workforce.

I guess graduation represents change for parents as much as it does for the senior who is graduating. Moms and dads are forced to step back and prepare to watch their children learn, experience, fail, succeed ... and leave.

I heard a couple of radio disc jockeys the other day and one was preparing for her child's graduation ... from preschool. She seemed just as emotional as someone preparing for a high school graduation. The other DJ, of course, teased her.

For parents, graduation means stepping back just a bit so a child can grow and develop. It's a time to encourage, teach and allow for those inevitable mistakes to be made.

It's glorious and sad, and equally challenging for parents and children.

Until today, it didn't occur to me that it could be so challenging for the parent. But that's probably because by the time children graduate from high school, parents are accustomed to putting their own feelings on the back burner. Perhaps it's one of those times when we glow in the refracted spotlight that's shining on our children.

Congratulations seniors, and parents, too.

Kym Byrnes writes from Finksburg. E-mail her at kymbyrnes@gmail.com.


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