Tag Archives: #graduation

Watching My Daughter Graduate At Home

It was supposed to be a momentous year. I was planning to throw a party. A graduation party. Friends, flowers, photos. Smiles, speeches, tears. A memorable day where I would watch my daughter walk across the stage, surrounded by her peers, basking in the cheers of their families. A communal celebration. A coming of age. A time to fly. A time to sigh.

From the time she was four, I had imagined this milestone moment of her college graduation. Almost twenty years ago, I had heard commentary by Baxter Black about his graduating daughter on National Public Radio. It began with a question. “Did you ever stop and think to yourself – this will be the last time?”

It was a brief monologue, simple and moving, in the way heartfelt words often are. I thought about his words for days, trying to remember the order of those short sentences, trying to grasp the genuine emotions they conveyed. Years later, Google helped me trace the transcript. 

I printed the words on an off-white sheet of paper with green trellis design, inserted it into a plastic sheet protector, and tucked it into a cardboard box. The box traveled from America to India, and then to Singapore. My job was to keep the paper safe until her graduation day. The idea was to hand the sheet to her; to ponder, to keep, to discard, just like all the words I had uttered her over the years. That was the plan.  

To paraphrase John Lennon, Covid-19 is what happens when you are busy making other plans. Instead of the class of 2020, my daughter’s graduating cohort will forever be referred to as the Covid-19 class. 

Without a public ceremony for graduation, there will be no visible marker of an event to signify an end and a beginning. For me, the end of the years of direct parenting; for her, a beginning that would require her to fly away with strong wings and a smile. 

The disappointment of not having a large in-person ceremony was not just hers. I was hoping to vicariously relive the memory of my own graduation that took place more than two decades ago. To temper my disappointment, I revisited commencement speeches that form an important part of the US graduation experience. 

Encapsulating the distilled wisdom of the lived experience of writers, entrepreneurs, and people of substance, each speech is a mini self-help book of sorts, a concentrated shot of a carefully fermented brew that could cause a palpable buzz if swallowed swiftly. Many popular speeches became books that could be handed out as graduation gifts containing words of advice to young people stepping into a world of possibilities. 

But what advice can you give this cohort of millennial youth who feel cheated of their moment in the spotlight? They were denied the chance to post envy-inducing photos of a champagne-popping, hat-tossing, party-hopping day on Instagram. More importantly, they were denied the chance to savor the last in-person class, the last in-class exam, the last time of simply hanging out around campus, and the last chance to say goodbye. 

In an ideal world, my daughter would have heard inspiring words from influential people. All she can do now is hang out with family members with whom she has been stuck at home for months. While I cannot provide her the chance to march across a stage, victorious in a cap and gown, the one thing I can do is dispense pearls of wisdom. After all, I have lived an interesting life. But, as she helpfully points out, I have been giving ‘lectures’ forever. Instead of applause, my monologues are usually met with eye rolls.

Even though I grudgingly agree, I am tempted to install some final pieces of programming code into her before she flies away.

“Uncertainty is inevitable. Doing something is more important than getting it right every time. Take all advice with a pinch of salt.’ 

But in this post-COVID world, I look back on my years of parenting and consider the futility of the insistence on helmets and seatbelts, at the constant attempt to ease my child’s path and smooth the bumps, and wonder if anything I have said can prepare her for a world that has literally turned on a dime.

Words, however, are not empty platitudes. They carry with them the weight of a person’s experience, and their value is proportional to your trust and respect for the person involved. 

There is much I want to say, but this is the time for action, not words. I once again read Baxter Black’s musings and notice for the first time that like me, he has more questions than answers. 

All I can do is mutely nod in response to his final question – “Where did she go, this little girl of mine?” 

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog


This piece was first published here.

Commencement 2020: A Letter to Our Future Leaders

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today, to join this Class of 2020 with the World.  2020 has been such a surreal year that your graduation will certainly remain remarkable.  Staying in place has made in-person toasts a tedious task, so we raise a symbolic glass in your honor.  Congratulations!

Finally, it is your commencement

I remember when I was in Second Grade when studies seemed endless and I asked my teacher how long it would be before we stopped learning. The answer has stayed with me till today – “NEVER!”  What a shock when you are 7 to hear that studying is never over!  She said life is a continuous learning process. And perhaps that is what has inspired me to keep learning till today. 

University of life

Of course, one does not have to sign up formally to any course for learning.  You are automatically enrolled in the University of Life which gives admission to people from all walks, irrespective of their grade with no discrimination of age, color, creed. 

Sometimes you get a gentle guru and at other times a tyrannical taskmaster. Both teach you different things.  Keep an open mind so you learn from your experiences.  Keep an open heart so that you take others under your wing and give to those who might need a hand.  And never forget those who have extended you a hand, in your time of need.

Speak up

Recognize other’s struggles. The role of being a Knight in Shining Armor has become less dangerous and genderless. It doesn’t require the skill of horse-riding, or slaying dragons – just that you raise your voice with and for others when you see injustice.  

Never let someone tell you your place. Never have someone have you questioning your self-worth or your worth as an employee. 

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your sisters and brothers. Stand up to injustice. Just be upstanding and outstanding in whatever you do.

Don’t undersell yourself, but don’t be a sellout either.  It is better to rise to the top with others rather than alone. 

Lift each other up. Remember you are stronger as a tribe.  

Changemakers

I have great hope for the current generation.  It is more open, more accepting, and more tolerant than the previous generations.  We are headed in the right direction.  Your asset is your idealism – guard it against a cold and cynical world.  Idealism is what leads you to fight for changes – big or small. 

Recent events, such as Black Lives Matter, have shown us that the world still needs radical change. You are the changemakers. Do more than sharing news on social media. Sign petitions, protest, talk to your City Council Members, get involved in politics – find ways in which you can make a difference.  

We must look beyond the comfort of our own communities to speak up for others facing dire situations.  While there is a sense of belonging within any individual culture, there is no greater strength than feeling a sense of oneness with the larger community of the world – a recognition, that we –despite our color, race, gender identity, nationalities– are all human. Our happiness and freedoms come from the happiness and freedoms of our brothers.  A cry for help must not be quelled. 

Money talks

You have all been blessed to have an education. Some of you will be earning sooner than others. You’ve earned your right to spend!  Money used for yourself gives you pleasure.  Money used to buy someone else a gift doubles in value.  Money invested wisely in the stock market may triple in value. 

But money given to someone in need or money invested in humanity, now that is priceless!  How much is the value of your money multiplied by Infinity? 

Money has great buying power.  But know also that what cash CANNOT buy is what is TRULY valuable.  Love, peace, happiness, friendships, and health – invest in these. 

It’s your life

You have one life – so live it up.  Live it to your fullest!  Yes, you have one life – make sure what you do counts.  Some of you will no doubt create huge waves, but others will affect the world with gentle ripples. You get no certificates from the University of Life, except for the Karmic kind, and the satisfaction that you have served. 

To quote from the poem Incredible Woman written by Yours Truly, “Your beauty is not in your height, but the heights YOU will reach…”  So, be inventors, game-changers, set a spark – no, not as arsonists!  Spark debates, spark changes, make your mark on this world.  And while you are blazing trails, we, your Bay Area community, will leave the light on for you. Shine on!

Yours truly,
Meera Rao Prahlad

Meera Rao Prahlad is a freelance writer, community organizer, and volunteer with a variety of interests.  In addition to writing and teaching Language, she wears the hat of Director of Top Form Academy, which provides training in Business Communication and Etiquette to professionals, as well as life skills for youth. She is currently working on writing a book on Etiquette.