Commencement, By Lorie Sheffer

Within a span of a few days, both of my “kids” received diplomas. They each walked a very different path to get to that end.

My daughter earned a Bachelor of Arts in Letters, Arts and Sciences from Penn State, York Campus. The look on her 11-year-old son’s face was priceless as he watched his mother finally walk across that stage to receive her diploma. They had done their homework together at the kitchen table, and he had seen her still sitting there finishing papers she had stayed up all night to complete, only to have to shower and dress for work that same day.

We had a celebratory dinner that evening, during which she commented about the 14 years it had taken her to achieve her goal. She commented on what her little brother had achieved during that same time. He had finished high school, graduated from college with two honors degrees, and obtained a master’s degree in bioethics while completing medical school. His graduation was set for three days later. I had seen the smile on my son’s face during her graduation ceremony, and watched as he listened closely to the graduates who stepped up to the open mike to say a few words. Many of them thanked their families for supporting them through the years, especially their small children who saw Mommy or Daddy working full time while finishing college a few credits at a time. One graduate was in tears as she said she was so honored to be the first member of her family to earn a college degree.

My son said to his sister, “Not everyone has the luxury of going to college full time. Sometimes life happens, and you have children to care for and bills to pay. You did this while working full time and raising an amazing son.” He was clearly in awe of his sister and what she had accomplished.

It’s so easy to be intimidated by the accomplishments of others. It’s tempting to just not even try, thinking it’s too late or that it will take too much time. What struck me was the admiration and respect that my son had for the tenacity of the graduates he had heard that night. He, who had accomplished so much, was blown away by their spirit and determination.

More than the diplomas they received, I find that, as their mother, I am most proud of her will to reach her goal no matter the time and sacrifice it would take, and that his long list of accomplishments never eclipsed his true appreciation for the accomplishments of others. Children learn more, I feel, by example than they do by words alone. That being said, these past few days may have been one of the best learning experiences of my grandson’s life; not only in persistence and appreciation, but in humility.