05/23/2013 08:10 am ET Updated Jul 23, 2013

The Bittersweet Milestone Of College Graduation

Courtesy of Kathryn E. Livingston

My youngest son is graduating from college. I should be jubilant -- after all, no more college payments! But I'm not feeling quite as fancy-free as I thought I would. The impending occasion has caused me to revisit my own graduation week, and I remember a heady mix of longing, fear, anxiety, yearning, anticipation, excitement, sorrow, joy, stress and celebration. For me, college graduation was bittersweet, and so I suspect, it will be for my son, who just happens to be a lot like his mom.

Why am I not on cloud nine? The reasons are many but here are a few:

1. I adore college and will truly miss it.
Yes, I know I graduated many years ago. But having a kid in college gives a parent a perfect excuse to make an occasional visit to a campus (granted, just to pick up/drop off one's offspring, and his/her laundry). Driving through campus, past the language arts building and the bustling student union brings me back to my own days in academia. Without a kid in college, I really have no excuse to be lurking (unless, of course, I sign up for some senior citizen program somewhere). But that's not the same.

2. The sandbox syndrome.
It's kind of like that milestone of getting rid of the sandbox in the backyard, which is a symbol of the fact that you have young children. Once you relinquish that sandbox you're announcing to the world that your kids are growing up (and you are -- ahem -- getting older). Not having a kid in college is kind of like that.

3. As much as I'm looking forward to having my son home again for a time, I also fear it.
Yes, I've been whining about my empty nest for a couple of years now, but I've grown accustomed to my solitude and privacy. Having my son home again means that he'll be coming in well past what I consider to be a reasonable hour, and since he has (like so many twentysomethings) no job yet, I'll have to set rules again about sleeping in, helping out around the house, etc. Frankly, I'm so done with all that.

4. Watching my son struggle with what he'll be doing in the near and distant future brings me back to a time in my life when I was in turmoil.
I remember typing up close to a hundred letters while fruitlessly searching for a teaching position (I eventually landed in newspaper reporting). With no job, and having recently broken up with my boyfriend (who is now my husband), I had to go home with my tail between my legs. Of course, it all worked out. But there was an inordinate amount of angst in the process.

5. Money.
My husband (a classical musician) and I (a writer) have been helping to foot the college bills for our three sons for 12 years now and although I'm relieved that this payment schedule is coming to a grand finale, my sons still have tremendous loans to pay off. This, gulp, is yet another reason to feel grim.

But -- and this is a big BUT -- even with all this griping and sorrow and self pity, I have to admit that graduating from college is a miraculous milestone. And, as I texted my son the other night when I was feeling down and knew that he was probably feeling equally sad to be leaving his college buddies and his idyllic campus, "With every ending comes a beginning."

Anyway, even I wouldn't have wanted to stay in college forever. The scent of stale beer and blasting Led Zeppelin can get old. And frankly, I'd rather write a blog than a 40-page paper on Chaucer.

I do feel a bit weepy (which always happens to me around graduations, whether from pre-school, kindergarten, grade school, high school or beyond) but I wish all the college graduates great success. May they follow their bliss (and make some bucks while they're at it!). Carpe Diem!

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