Lessons Learned from a kindergarten graduation

  • Published
  • By Paula Spooner
  • Family advocacy outreach manager
I recently attended my 6-year-old granddaughter Lily's graduation from kindergarten.

The ceremony represented an accomplishment ("I did it!") as well as a rite of passage ("I'm not one of those little kids anymore!"). The school lunchroom was packed with proud parents, relatives and friends. Cameras flashed and video-cameras recorded. Naturally, the kindergartners were bursting with pride -- a little bit embarrassed, but having the time of their lives. After the awards were announced and "diplomas" distributed, kids and audience members met up in the atrium for the requisite kisses, hugs, congratulations and (of course) more picture-taking.

As I admired Lily's various recognitions and certificates, my daughter nudged me. Quietly and unobtrusively she pointed out a classmate of Lily's sitting hunched over on some nearby bleachers. Tiny, and apparently alone, she gazed out on the hubbub -- parents scooping up their graduates, grandparents snapping photos -- with the saddest yearning I believe I have ever seen on a small child. Her expression was palpable; it contained a raw mix of longing, fascination and grief. Yet I detected neither envy nor rancor, just a quiet near-adult acceptance of her state of alone-ness.

I was filled with fury and bitter injustice: What kind of parents would essentially abandon their small child on such an important day?

You see, I am familiar with the impact this can have, for the following reason: When Lily's mother was 5, I was unable to attend her kindergarten graduation due to military commitments. Although her father videotaped the ceremony, it just wasn't the same. Not for me, and certainly not for my daughter. Twenty years later, we both still regret my absence. In fact, she mentioned it while watching Lily.

So maybe that is why we herded our small group in this child's direction. And while Lily and her brother "broke the ice," I headed to the school office. There, I inquired about the acceptability of taking a couple of photos that I could forward to the office for the child's parents.

Without being informed of her name, the office staff knew exactly about which child I was asking. As it turns out, a parent had been there briefly, but was unable to stay due to a medical emergency with another child.

Further, the staff believed that, given the unavoidable circumstances, her parent would deeply appreciate some after-ceremony photographs. I was provided a school email address, and thanked for my concern.

We snapped some photos. We admired and congratulated her on her accomplishments. With lots of encouragement, she finally smiled -- just a tiny little smile -- but it was an improvement, nonetheless.

Meanwhile, I felt ashamed of my immediate assumption that her parents hadn't cared enough to be there, when in fact, an unavoidable conflict precluded their attendance. Given the dilemma I experienced with my own 5-year-old daughter's graduation, the irony of my too-quick judgment was not lost on me. And it was a powerful lesson.

Our children are born to us, and society expects us to raise and protect our offspring until they are capable of doing it for themselves. We know and accept this, and usually don't hesitate to utilize available support enabling us to accomplish the task acceptably well.

But what about the families -- the parents -- who really don't enjoy the luxury of a personal support network? The ones who are embarrassed to seek guidance or who believe no one cares, anyway? The isolated ones who must independently juggle work, kindergarten graduations and unforeseen medical emergencies -- trying in vain to prevent something critical from falling through the cracks?

Others may not agree, but here is what I believe. That it does, in fact, take a village to raise a child. That, in a community, every single person matters. That when we judge, opportunities are lost, families feel shunned and children can be hurt. And that, conversely, when we offer no-strings-attached support -- compassion and understanding to someone in need -- the healing impact causes a ripple effect that has no end.

We all have gifts, talents and skills. It seems to me that we possess a moral responsibility to share them to promote the wellbeing of others. The base Family Advocacy Program requests the following of Team Keesler: Stay aware and identify those around you who may be in a no-win situation, in need of a "favor" or who could use the encouragement of a steadying hand, then reach out and do what needs to be done. In other words, let's figure out a way to enable all parents to participate in their child's kindergarten graduation.