In June, many high school and college seniors are facing an end to the routine of a dozen or more years and head out to an unknown place. It is a beginning of a new phase of life, and from where we stand, full of opportunities.

We get nostalgic and remember our own graduations or our children’s. It was always in the school gym and the stage was adorned with lilacs and apple blossoms, unless there were a lot of snow days that year and graduation happened long after they bloomed. The scent of lilac was pungent and signified the graduation to come, when placed in the gym a day or two before.

We always hope the new graduates will have more opportunity and do better than we did in some ways, that they will make good decisions for themselves and follow through with all their plans.

Back in the 1960s there was a lot of somber planning and practice for graduations. There were several hours – long mandatory practices with the “hesitation step,” marching to Pomp and Circumstance. There was baccalaureate to attend as a practice run for how the marching would really work. Seniors were on their best behavior, as there were always stories about people who were not allowed to graduate for some reason or another.

And in those days, if you didn’t march or get your diploma on stage, you had disappointed a whole hoard of people — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, all of whom had saved the date and planned to be there to see you receive your long-awaited diploma. Your education might have been finished then, as you entered the workforce or married and had a family.

We have three grandchildren graduating this year. Two from college and one from high school. There are few practices, no “hesitation steps” (thank goodness someone realized this never worked), no baccalaureate (separation of church and state), and in two of the three cases, classes are so large there are no tickets or seats available beyond parents and siblings.

Family celebrations can take on a different look today, as well. More families today have divorced or parents and/or grandparents remarried. It really is almost overwhelming. How many tickets are there? Which parent or grandparent can even go? When is the after party and who is invited?
Less ceremony and more complication.

But whether they graduated in 1967 or 2017, they are in a place of a lot of decision making. Where/if to go to college; how to pay for it; where to stay; how to work and go to school; how to have time enough to study; and how to avoid most student debt. It is a different world in some ways.

College was a wonderful place for a privileged group in the past. And today it is open to most anyone who can work hard, patch together tuition with scholarships, grants and loans, and who can keep their grades up, along with participating in extracurricular activities and becoming involved with some community service. There are lots of community colleges with courses that teach life skills, vocational education and preparation for four-year colleges and universities, which are more affordable and often closer to home.

Looking back, we never thought it would be this hard for future generations. The changes can really be stunning. You hear so much about student debt, robberies, assaults, rapes and murders on campuses, that you are a little worried about your grandchild attending at times.

But you know the other side of it. It can be fun to meet new people, learn new things, feel like you are on a path to something that will propel you into your new adult life. It can be invigorating to think about and remember.

What were you hoping to do after your high school or college graduation? Did you make it happen? Did you realize you would be happier on another path? Did having a family derail your plans for a while? Did you accomplish all you envisioned as that 18 or 22 year old?

There is still time. Stop and smell the lilacs, and let them bring back that dream!