It’s been 20 years since I walked across the stage of the newly constructed gymnasium in the new student center of a small Christian college in Southern California. It’s been twenty years since my name was called and my parents, adopted grandparents, and a few friends clapped. With a pin from the honor society on the lapel of my black gown, a blue and silver tassel in my cap and cum laude cords around my neck, I was bestowed my bachelor’s degree in Secondary Social Science.

My college graduation, 17 May 2003

Well, almost bestowed. Because I went to a small college that didn’t have all of the classes for my major, I was part of a contract program with the state university across the street. And since the classes at that state university ended two weeks after my graduation ceremony, I had to wait until final grades were turned in before I ultimately received that piece of paper that I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours over the past four years working for.

The cap and gown are long gone, donated to those who needed it more than I. The pin remains in my jewelry box, a reminder of days past. The cords are tucked in my high school mug on a bookshelf, gathering dust. The tassel became a Christmas tree ornament, a memory of what once was. The certificate is in the file cabinet along with other things I intended to get framed and never did.

While I don’t use the degree much these days, as my current full time job doesn’t even require one, I do use the lessons I learned in college to help me even today. I’ve used the research skills I learned to work on my own hobby of genealogy. The English and History classes introduced me to more subjects and writers and authors than I could ever hope to learn about. The creative writing class I took there sparked the idea that I could be a writer. And even the Bible classes taught me that even scripture can be open to interpretation and is subject to context and life isn’t always black and white.

This weekend, the other half and I had the opportunity to attend a number of graduation parties given by friends for their children. Watching the fresh faces of recent high school graduates made me smile, for they are just about to venture into the adult world for the first time. The college graduates are wondering where their freshly minted degrees will take them, hoping to make enough money to cover the student loan repayments they soon will have to remunerate. And parents and teachers are just glad that school is over for a bit and they can breathe before venturing forth into whatever lies ahead.

They are writing another chapter in the story of their life.

But there are those students who don’t get to graduate. Life throws them curveballs, writing into their stories chapters that weren’t meant to be. Deaths, circumstances, finances, even turmoil beyond their control keep them from walking across the stage with their classmates. Some never return to school. Others find their way through another avenue. Still others overcome tremendous obstacles and beat the odds.

They all learned lessons too. They still have so much left to write of their stories, even without all the pomp and circumstances of a graduation.

Graduates of 2023 – high school, college, trade school, or graduates of the school of hard knocks – wherever life takes you, keep writing that story of yours. No one else can do it for you. Whatever chapters unfold, enjoy the ride. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but also learn from them. And most of all, stay magical.

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And as always, #writeyourownstory

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