GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

My daughter, Christen, graduated from Boston University this spring, and for weeks I’ve been trying to put my thoughts and emotions into some coherent order. The traditional themes of celebration and congratulations and prosaic definitions of success do not suffice. While they are pertinent, they seem insufficient. Why this ambivalence?

When our children graduated from high school, things seemed simpler. They were leaving home for the first time, albeit under structured and least-threatening conditions so far as ways of leaving home go. Then we could almost absent-mindedly celebrate and shower love and approbation on our innocent graduates.

During graduation weekend, my wife and I walked down a street toward Nickerson Field, slightly behind our daughter and her friends. They were brilliant in their billowing red robes. Young and excited, they walked quickly and I watched them gradually disappear from sight as they moved ahead of us. I still cannot put my feelings about Christen’s graduation into precise words, but as I watched that red-robed gaggle of young adults rushing down the street I sensed there was something in the image that perfectly captured the reality.

The changes our graduating college students are about to experience are not marked by any outward transition. When they finished high school they were on the threshold of leaving home. Finishing college, either they continue away or perhaps return to home. They may be going on to graduate school or they may be going to work. Either way, they will face intellectual challenges that are not much more complex than what they wrestled with in college. No, to identify the nature of the changes they face, we must look elsewhere.

I received an intimation of the answer at Christen’s commencement. After two hours of pageantry the closing benediction was delivered by Rabbi Joseph Polak. He began with an ancient Hebrew question: “Two men meet in the desert. One has enough water to reach civilization, the other has none. Shared equally, the water is insufficient to save either man. What should the man with the water do?”

Rabbi Polak continued with some standard words of benediction while the crowd made ready to go. Then just as we thought the rabbi was finished he leans closer to the microphone and raises his voice thus: “There is an accident. Ten people are rushed to the hospital needing heart-lung machines to survive. The hospital has four machines. Who gets them?” That was the closing sentence of the commencement ceremony.

Rabbi Polak continued with his benediction while the crowd made ready to go. Then just as we thought the rabbi was finished, he leans closer to the microphone and raises his voice thus: “Look! There is an accident. Ten people are rushed to the hospital needing heart-lung machines to survive. The hospital has four machines. Who gets them?” This was the question left ringing in the ears of the graduates at the end of the commencement ceremony.

To watch one’s son or daughter enter a new world, where the knife cuts and draws real blood, is enough to make any parent pensive. Yes, we celebrate and cheer. Yes, we lavish our love and pride. But we also know that there is more to our child entering their brave new world than warrants simple joy. We are somewhat staggered at the thought. Our child’s childhood is ended. Our protective umbrella over her is closed. The trials and sufferings of adult life now begin, along with the joys and satisfactions. We would save our child from such stormy days as lay ahead, though at the same time we would not have it any other way.

God bless and keep our college-graduating sons and daughters as they embark on their life-long struggle to decide who gets the heart-lung machines.

Chris Mills lives in Groton with his wife and three teenage children. Chris can be contacted at cmills@gis.net.