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A Caring Father’s/Mentor’s Graduation Lament...

First off, I don’t like graduations. I am the Scrooge of graduation ceremonies. I don’t like saying goodbye to students that I have built relationships with. However, recently I was fortunate to participate— and on some level attend— one of SUNY Plattsburgh’s two 2010 Commencement ceremonies. As a faculty member I donned the regalia and participated in the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. As a parent of one of the graduates I sat back and pondered what is going on in the mind of my daughter, as well as the minds of students who were graduating that day. I also wondered what the many thoughts were that probably were running rampant through the minds of the parents. After all, as they watched their now mature, accomplished, well educated offspring preparing for the so-called real world, there had to be varying levels of anxiety mixed in with pride in the accomplishments of their progeny. Am I alone in my mind wandering about their future, and mine, on this celebratory day of ending and beginning?


As a father of a young woman with unlimited potential I am certain that my daughter will find success in life. She is a quality person who genuinely cares about people, especially those who are not as fortunate as she has been. She is intelligent, healthy, gifted, personable, beautiful (well, what did you think I would say, she is my daughter), courageous, caring/kind, loving, respectful, and considerate. She is a liberated woman, socially conscious person, who is a change agent and burgeoning leader. For all intent and purposes, she is ready for the world. But is she? When we were graduating from high school back in the day we thought we were ready for the world, to some extent, and it was years later when we revisited that readiness, retrospectively, that we realized we were not ready at 18 years of age. Consequently, the same can be said of our college graduation(s), only perhaps more so. The commitment of time and energy that is put into acquiring a college education by both the students and parents of the students is huge. The students are the ones deeply immersed in the trenches of the educational enterprise, having to learn how to consistently front load their academic efforts before they invest in party time with their crew or newly found friends. The students are the ones who must determine how much they buy into the hype of any lesson they are taught versus challenging some of those lessons. The students are the ones who must decide if they pursue a major that could pay them big bucks but with little emotional investment. Or study what they are passionate about learning though it doesn’t appear to be an economically feasible choice.

As parents, we want to support our college students’ development. Many of us write the checks for them to attend. Many of us take out loans or get second jobs to contribute to them having the opportunity to better situate them in society. Some parents are ever vigilant, standing by hoping that their children will pay their newly created bills timely and responsibly. And then there are the parents who many times send their children off to college wanting them to learn as much as they can, only to respond to some of the new found knowledge that their children acquire with a dumbfounded “What the hell are they teaching you?” Isn’t this what many of our parents said to us when we came back home eagerly trying to share with our parents our new found knowledge?
And then there is the mental preparation of sending our offspring into the so-called real world without us for the first time. Their attending college, while its own society of sorts, was still somewhat of a controlled environment. We knew residence life staff was trained to respond to the different needs of students, and trained to respond to the different cultural realities of the different students who represent diverse realities on many college campuses today. We know that deans of students, department chairs, faculty, staff and administrators at the best colleges are committed and engaged in being student centered and therefore always responsive, if not seeking professional development opportunities to further enhance their skills at educating and relating to their students. But we don’t live in a world where people are committed to respectfully considering the other. Our now adult children will have as neighbors, in their first non-college life homes, an array of people who have varying levels of sensitivity towards their interactions with others. It won’t all be bad, but it won’t all be good either. Yes, some employers do consistently engage in professional development to assure an efficient, productive work environment. But some employers are clueless about the significance of these initiatives, can’t afford them, or don’t value them. Our newly graduated progeny will be living and working in this world. Am I alone in this anxiety?

I’m a glass half full kind of guy, usually. But if I park my car too close to another car in a parking lot I always think it might get bumped or nicked because it was too close to the neighboring car and couldn’t be avoided (having witnessed how insensitive people are to other people’s property). When I punch in my code at an ATM I am cautious about the privacy I have during my transaction (having suffered from a mild case of identity theft). So, forgive me if as a college professor and consultant to various businesses I know first-hand how people treat each other which often on good days isn’t necessarily good, or ideal. Forgive me if I am a bit paranoid about how my daughter or other protégés are about to be received in our still largely inconsiderate, self-centered, uncaring world. I consider myself a change agent who passionately tries to challenge people to join me in changing the game. With two more of my children in the pipeline, hopefully one day heading towards high school and college graduations, and countless students of mine that I am profoundly connected to, I need to work harder, smarter, and faster. I don’t know if I can continue to handle this type of stress. Am I alone in this anxiety? As students, should your parents be nervous about your future? To what extent are you?

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Comments

JW, one of my very closest friends, I always enjoy reading your thoughts, which make me think as well. I believe it is natural for us to worry about our kids much more than they worry about themselves.

We know many of the dangers and seductions that lurk out there, but on a positive note, we also know the joys and opportunities. At 18, I "knew much more than I do now." Something interesting happens to some of us who go through the educational process. We may receive Ph.D.'s from noted universities, but it can be a humbling experience. We realize that there is far more that we will never know than the few things we think we know.

One of the things we think we know is what is best for our kids. Our parents no doubt thought the same thing, to which many of us rebeled. In the end, you and I have done pretty well, something many people in my life didn't think was possible.

So, are our kids prepared for the challenges ahead? We have to believe so. They are in many ways more prepared than we were, although those of us who grew up in tough environments may have an edge in dealing with some of the harsher sides of life.

But I have a lot of faith in the next generation. My students are sharp and motivated. I do agree with your sentiment about graduations. They are celebrations, while at the same time reminders that I will have to say goodbye to the many faces I have come to know, respect, and simply like as people. Here's to our 2010 graduates! I hope our words will remain with them as a source of inspiration and guidance, on their unique journeys through life.

Dr. Wiley, you are not alone!

JW,
Here's a question you may want to ask yourself - "does my daughter know how to fail?" or rather, recover from failure.
I believe the biggest fault in our well-meaning public education system is to remove failure - or at least the consequences of failure - from the classroom. We don't ever want a student to feel bad about themselves, or to suffer even the mildest humiliation. We guard against this so much that we remove all risk from life - and therefore, all true reward as well.
College graduates today are certainly educated, probably smart and at least mildly intelligent. But do they have any backbone? Any guts? If life throws them lemmons, can they make lemonade? My biggest fear is that parents and educators have sanitized the environments of our children to such an extent that they have no resistance to REAL failure, loss or humiliation, to such an extent that they have no idea how to recover from it. Like small doses of a disease can build the immune system, I believe it is these small failures and tribulations early in life that can build emmotional readiness for the much harsher realities of "the real world." True self esteem comes, not from being protected and sheltered, but rather, from recovering from one's mistakes, rising to meet challenges, and overcoming obstacles after failing to do so in times past.
This is different than cynicism. Indeed, it is perhaps the most idealistic of us who are best equipped to plow ahead, move on, and stay true to themselves when "the world" tries to throw them off track.
When the time comes for me to watch my son graduate from high school - and then college - by then, I'll know that he knows how to succeed - indeed, a college graduate has attained a great deal of success. But, I still won't be sure if he knows how to fail.

Dad, I feel that I am ready for the next step. One of life’s lessons for me so far has been that I can’t expect or predict what’s in the future. I really do need to take my breaths one at a time and count the blessings…this is something college may not necessarily have prepared me for in terms of deadlines and number of classes required to graduate, but I cannot complain. I am a college graduate!
Thank you for taking the time to show me who you are. This helped me to reveal more of myself and in turn find pieces of your essence in my being. Your words of wisdom and showers of love have contributed to my confidence that I will be more than OK out there in the “real world.” You have done an excellent job and I trust you will continue to drop pearls on me when we are together.
Card Buddy, I agree with your point about our generation’s failure to cope with failure. It seems as though our society is trying to get us to feel as though we cannot fail. If we always feel good about ourselves, we will rush to escape any negative feelings that may come up. I see this around me in friends who do drugs, children who watch TV all day while eating candy and chips, and myself who won’t put my voice out in a classroom for fear of “sounding stupid.” All of this is an escape from failure.

In a larger context, if we're conditioned to feel good about ourselves all the time, being convinced we cannot fail/lose, we won't take no for an answer and will feel entitled to whatever contributes to our feeling positive. What does this mean for international relations? Will we as Americans feel entitled to buy our happiness with the sorrows of others? Is this happening already?
Recognizing this is the first step. Now that I have taken this step, I feel ready for the next…making a conscious effort, one situation at a time, to change. This is why I feel ready.

Reflections of a "life claimed" Man, not to be confused with the legal definition of "Person", "Individual", "Citizen", or "Subject": How can one be anything but opinionated an slightly ill-informed when one doesn't know who they are?. A simple reflection, American, White, African American (sic), Black, just to name a few. We all may suffer from follow the leader or follow the custom thats popular at the time. Are there any honest conversations out their regarding who we are and how did we arrive at such a confused state? and i don't mean the state upon which the land mass exist. For me, I derive my power from historical reflections and future projections which have opened up a brand new world for me. Ancestral internal conversations which has established within me a new spiritual / warrior existence. Don't get it messed up people, while you are pondering your next social event, others are creating and crafting how you, your children and the next several generations will live, exists, and depart this physical world. Social beings as we are, its a pity that the kind of conversations that we should be having is, How did we get to be so weak, basing our entire existence on uniformed and non-researched life styles that make our ego's soar but kill the planet that maintains us. To love is to evol-ve thats true, but what we share now is only a projection of love and not the substance of love. let's get it together people, all we have to do is raise the level of conversations which should include how are we going to leave the planet for the next seven generations yet un-born and we will have accomplished a great deal from the answers derived from such questions.

Pay close attention to the events before and current, for they will and have shaped your destiny whether you like it or not. For If we all inherited this planet, then why are people operating from a fear based existence? Are you living in a scare "City"? (scarcity) Let's have this conversation. Lets also be aware of the terms and phrases being used to create a possible "Spell" upon the minds of men and women right now. In the words of Cicero " For he who does not know the world before he was born is to forever remain a child". I am Jakada, also known as the "Transient Foreigner". Peace.........

J.W. Congratulations on your daughter's graduation! How proud you must be.

You know, it's now her life. Sorry I can't rattle off platitudes from Cicero et al ... she will do just fine. Of course she will have her challenges but knowing her background, she will accomplish great things. Like the SUNY motto: she will become all she is capable of being.

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