Graduation and Transitions

Careers, Essays, Life, Thoughts

It is spring and that means it is time for graduation! I wrote a short piece for the State College paper, The Centre Daily Times, on preparing for transitions. Change happens, we cannot stop it, but how we cope with these transitions can shape and mold our lives. So be aware that the change is coming (not just the festivities that surround it), embrace it and your loved ones, and live into the new reality that is post-graduation.

April 23, 2016

“In like a lion, out like a lamb.”

“April showers bring May flowers.”

Spring is a time of dramatic changes in weather, the cold hard earth softening and bringing forth new life … and endless clichés. Spring is not only the time of nature’s rebirth, it is also graduation season. As someone who has given scores of commencement speeches I can attest that avoiding clichés is nigh on impossible (so I tend to embrace them). We resort to them because they contain fundamental truths; graduating from high school or college is both an ending and a beginning, it is the next step on a lifelong journey. In short, it is a time of transition.

We know that they are a part of life, we face them all the time, and so we tend to assume that we can just roll right through, just another event in a life full of events. Or we allow ourselves to get too wrapped up in the moments of the event. Whether we look past the graduation or focus upon the minute details, we fail to contemplate and appreciate what the event signifies and the effect this change will have on our lives, parents and graduates alike.

Graduation is an opportunity to celebrate not simply the past accomplishments of our students, but their future as well. For many parents our child’s future success involves a very real diminishment in our direct role in their lives. We will never cease to be their parents, but now they must stand on their own. That may be scary for them and a point of grief for us. And that is OK.

So embrace your graduates and the uncertainty that this latest transition brings, because the brightest spring begins in the bitterest of winters — and today the sun is shining.

This I Believe

Essays, Honor, Life

I was invited to contribute an essay for our local NPR station’s “This I Believe.” This essay is apart of a yearlong project on grieving called “Learning to Live: What’s Your Story?”  The audio can be found here and the essay is below.

We all believe many different things over the course of our lives and our beliefs shift; much as the relentless waves alter the contours of the shore, new experiences cause us to grow and adapt.

A few years ago I wrote a “This I Believe” essay about the importance of honor, of doing what is right at all times. I continue to hold that belief, but in the last few years I’ve also realized the value and importance of expressing loss.

I believe in the necessary and restorative power of grief.

On New Year’s Eve 2012 our son Mack died of sepsis, an uncontrollable blood infection that took his life in a matter of hours. While I had spent more than a decade in the academic and theological study of Jewish and Christian responses to loss, nothing could prepare me for the loss of my child. Shortly after Mack died our friend shared a slim volume on grief by Granger Westberg. It is called “Good Grief” and in it Westberg points out that we grieve all sorts of things in our lives, big and small.

We recognize and understand that when someone we love dies, we will grieve. We mourn the fact that they will no longer be in our lives. Those around us will often recognize that we are grieving, offering us support and the emotional space to express our feelings of loss. But we often do not realize that we grieve all sorts of “little things” as well.

Shortly after Mack died, a student met with me to discuss her academic future. She said, “I’m sorry to bother you Dean Brady. My changing majors is nothing compared with you and your wife losing your son.” Of course they are different categories of loss, but as I told the student, for her, at that point in her life, this was a major loss and change. She had always intended to be a physician and realizing this was not her future was truly heart breaking for her. She was grieving the loss of that intended future, just as we grieved the future we had dreamed of for our son.

In the Penn State community there are many who still grieve the events that followed the disclosure in 2011 that a Penn State football coach had sexually molested young boys. In talking with members of our Penn State community, I realized that, although few acknowledged it, we were, each in our own way, grieving. We were grieving for those young boys and the scars they carry, we were grieving that memories of past football victories would now be tarnished, we were grieving our own loss of innocence.

We all grieve and we grieve all sorts of things. I believe grief is healing. If we embrace it, its waters, which feel like they might drown us, will purify us instead.