A generation turns corner

June 14, 2005 | By Diane Evans

There’s something about seeing high school graduates in caps and gowns. It’s as if they’re all grown up. Looking like men and women all of a sudden.

Where did the years go?

I made it through our older daughter’s graduation with emotions in check. She asked if I cried. A little; not much.

Actually, it struck me when I heard her tell a younger cousin that this was the most important day of her life so far. I would have said First Communion.

But that’s from my eyes.

High school graduation isn’t anything so extraordinary on the scale of academic achievement and what it takes to get ahead.

Yet it’s one of those turning points in life. A milestone. Or a passage, as Gail Sheehy called it.

That’s what gave me trouble. After the ceremony, after the celebration, when it came time to clean the house.

At one point, I found myself in the kids’ study, where there were stacks of index cards, handmade notecards from biology class and history and math. And there were binders with torn edges, filled with papers that wouldn’t be needed anymore. The waste baskets overflowed.

I thought about something my favorite lecturer at Chautauqua Institution said last summer—about how it’s therapeutic to sort through stuff, because through the physical act of sorting, we also sort through our thoughts and emotions.

I kept going to a window on the second floor and looking out over the side yard where our daughters played with the neighbor kids when they were small. I played out the scenes in my mind’s eye, while being intensely aware that college would start within weeks. And nothing would be the same. Not for the daughter who is going off, or for me or her father or her younger sister.

Oh, she’s excited, as she has reason to be, about the prospect of a new life with new independence. But nothing comes without challenge.

I’ve already verbalized the idea that if it’s tough sharing a bathroom with your younger sister, who is your blood and has a bedroom down the hall, what’s it going to be like in a room the size of a closet with a complete stranger?

Recently, we received an agenda in the mail, listing the activities for the first day freshmen are to report to campus.

I scanned the schedule until my eyes froze on what’s to happen at 8:45 p.m. “Parents Depart,” it said.

So it comes down to this. Depart.

I mentioned this to my friend Debbie, because the words wouldn’t leave me. She told me how she still could visualize, some 25 years ago, waving good-bye to her parents as they drove away from her freshman dorm in a Buick. To think, something as simple as pulling away in a Buick could be the demarcation between one phase of life and another.

In delivering the keynote address at our daughter’s commencement, Richard Jusseaume, the president of Walsh University in North Canton, reminded the graduates that they are part of the largest generation in American history.

“There are 100 million of you living in 34 percent of American homes,” he said. “You are considered a brilliant group, with IQs on the average seven points higher than your parents’….

“Computers, video games, iPods, computer games, cell phones and Palm Pilots are your toys. You are great communicators, not by writing notes as we did, but by instant messaging to dozens of people at once at tremendous speeds.”

Here is a generation, he said, that for all their privileges, is civic-minded, oriented toward volunteerism, and willing to join clubs and organizations (in defiance of trends since the 1960s).

“The Next Great Generation” is the subtitle of the book Millennials Rising, an analysis by Neil Howe and William Strauss of those born in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Jusseaume urged parents to believe in this generation, that there is indeed greatness in the making. Probably not a hard sell to a group of parents. For all the times of frustration and questioning, we’ve also seen the promise firsthand.