Graduating high school seniors receive gifts. Oftentimes, many gifts. No news flash there. Here are a few of the gifts I've heard this year's crop of graduates' parents say they're giving them: laptops, iPhones, trips abroad, fat checks and cars. The obligatory graduation parties (attended by gift-giving guests) round out these high-end gift short lists.
High-school seniors reminisce a lot. As their graduation approaches, they become nostalgic, cling to one another and recount endless tales from their shared past. While your highly emotional senior is in such a mindful state, you might ask her to consider giving a few gifts of her own. Precious gifts. Gifts of gratitude, given to the special people who encouraged her to first be a person of kindness, compassion and integrity, people who believed in her when she had lost belief in herself, comforted her when her dreams were shattered and gave her safe harbor when her world seemed desperately out of control. These are the mentors, family members, teachers, coaches, dear friends and caring souls who inspired your child, continually realized and confirmed her worth and potential, challenged her while steadfastly supporting her.
These guiding lights and beacons of hope were your child's allies and defenders, even after he made disappointing or bad choices and fell from grace. They did not blame or shame him. They put themselves in his shoes, empathizing deeply and giving him a soft place to fall. When he got into trouble or lost his way, they reminded him that he got in trouble because he was confused or afraid, not because he was a bad kid. They championed him and challenged him to take risks and assume responsibilities when fear and self-doubt weakened his resolve. They had his back. They believed in him totally.They not only helped him graduate, they were the rocks he could always cling to when childhood's troubled waters threatened to drown him.
Looking back at your own adolescence, did you have anyone to turn to when your heart was broken, when you felt deserted, hopeless, crippled by loathsome self-worth? If you had someone who would not let you drown, breathed courage into you and was always there with an embrace and a kind word, then you know how priceless they were -- and remain -- and how cherished your child's are to her. If you had no one in your childhood who lifted you up, then you know well what you dearly missed, whom you desperately needed.
We should never assume others know that we appreciate, value and cherish them. We need to write our words of caring and gratitude in letters. We must speak our words of everlasting thankfulness. Don't assume that people know how much they helped restore your dignity or how crucial it was that their belief in your innate goodness was never shaken. You need to tell them now. So do your children.
Encourage your senior to give such gifts of gratitude. And while she's expressing her thanks, maybe you might like to thank them, too. You might even try to contact those who helped shepherd you through your childhood, those you never thanked for always being there. Gratitude has no expiration date.
When I was in college, I attended a testimonial dinner for my high school basketball coach. I shook his hand, looked into his eyes and quietly told him that while he had certainly taught me how to become a better basketball player, he had helped me even more by showing and teaching me how to become a better man. Maybe you and your graduate can make sure that those who unconditionally gave you what you needed know how much you treasure them.