I graduated from college about a million years ago, but this time of year always makes me remember. This year has been particularly poignant since my students are graduating in the Vines Center at LU, the same giant room where I graduated all those years ago.
My parents split up during my first year of college (the first week, actually), and a couple of years later my father married a woman who didn't like me very much -- in fact, she pretty much thought I was evil incarnate and probably wore garlic around her neck any time I came near her. They didn't last long -- less than five years -- but she stayed around long enough to do some damage, not the least of which was keeping my father from attending my graduation from university.
To say I was devastated would be a vast and incomprehensible understatement. The drive was only a bit over 2 hours, his stated reasons for skipping were clearly fictional, and at 21 it was hard to understand how my greatest accomplishment to date meant so little to him. At 30 I still only barely comprehend it. One of my greatest regrets is that I missed my sister's graduation, and I had legitimate reasons why I could not go, namely a job that would not let me off and a car that could not be relied upon to get me there and back. I still regret that, and every time I see the cap and gown picture she has hanging in her kitchen I feel a little shot of pain that I missed such an important part of her life.
Today I was sitting in my department lunchroom when another teacher came in and asked if anyone knew the girl sobbing in the restroom -- I heard the name and was off like a shot, since not only did I know her, she was one of my drama kids, and one I consider like my own child.
It took some persuading to find out the story, but when it all came out, I experienced the strangest sensation of being thankful for one of the most painful experiences of my life. Her father is ditching her graduation, because of his current wife. The similarities were eerie; and even though I knew there was very little I could do to console her, I was thankful for the opportunity to hold her hand, rub her back, and reassure her that it wasn't her fault, and try to help her understand that there was nothing she could have done "better" to make her father less selfish.
It's been about a million years since it happened to me, and it still hurts. But it is amazing to me how helping her helps me heal too. It's amazing how I can learn to be thankful.