It is frequently noted that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. While this geometric fact may work well when planning public roads, it doesn’t always work when planning the personal path of a student. While straight lines are often favored because they are usually both precise and predictable, the lives of students are often a messy affair that, if graphed, would look a wild ride on a roller coaster.
This reality of our children’s lives can be difficult for parents. Often when our children are still at an early age we envision them growing up with good grades, entering reputable universities, embarking on ambitious careers and finding the perfect partner. Then the process is expected to repeat itself as they provide us with grandchildren that are also destined for the same trajectory of success. Often parents will expend great energy trying to keep their children on this path, encouraging the “right” choice of friends and the “appropriate” areas of study.
As a parent, I must admit that I have fallen into this trap at times with my own son and daughter. Fortunately, I am in profession that surrounds me with colleagues who remind me that while there may be correct answers on a multiple-choice math exam, there are no correct answers when our students choose their direction in life. Furthermore, this path is ever-changing as they constantly encounter crossroads that provide them with a choice in developing their emerging identities.
At no time of the school year is the aforementioned reality more clear than at graduation. As FIS parents see their children walk across the stage and accept their diplomas, I expect almost all are somewhat mystified that the young man or woman in the cap and gown was the same boy or girl that was, in some ways, so very different as a child. Is that impressive student walking across the stage the same son who was sent to the principal’s office for drawing an unflattering picture of his teacher in his notebook? Is that young woman the same daughter who said she hated math and is now entering college as an engineer?
It is appropriate that we have graduation in the spring because it is the same time of year that birds are nudged from their nests and encouraged to fly on their own. And, we should take note that it is not expected that these birds, once evicted, will always fly in a straight line from one branch to the next. They may at first fall to the ground or weakly flutter about until their wings and confidence grow strong. And even into adulthood these birds may choose to fly in lazy figure eights and swoop high and low simply for the joy of riding the winds.
My children are still years away from graduation, but I continue to practice the art of letting them find their own path. And while there is a remote possibility that they will move from Point A to Point B in a straight line, more than likely there will be detours through Q and other points that will plot their unique and wonderfully erratic journey in life. May all us of us parents find a way to simply enjoy this mysterious and joyful ride!