Graduation gratifies, but unconventional future looms


Before you read this column, chant this line: “This is not about me. This is not about me.”

I say that because I am bound to offend some very good people with this piece. I’ve done it before, when I’ve taken sacred tradition or community perspective and ... observed it, with no intention of being negative. You’ll have to trust me — this comes not from a place of anger, but joy and sadness. In nearly equal doses.

It’s a graduation year at Home Place, an unequivocally happy moment. Our graduate has surprised anyone who’s known her long. Burdened with prenatal brain trauma, learning has been terribly difficult at times. This is the girl who arrived at cognitive milestones long after her classmates had sprinted ahead. As she came into her teen years, social and emotional development proceeded excruciatingly slowly, grinding to a fitful stop for now.

Yet here we are, graduation-bound. We got the professional pictures, ordered announcements, agonized over the guest list and are discussing the family party menu. Endlessly, since older sisters are looped in and opining.

This didn’t just happen. Graduation comes about because of the intense — and that word isn’t big enough — involvement of professionals, neighbors, church members and friends who are willing to be a “village.”

By golly, we did it all. Tutored, cajoled, bribed, explained, explained, explained. Emailed, texted and phoned in a tight network of determination. We searched for help, found the best doctors, prayed the most-needed prayers.

But no adult in the universe could change some things, and that’s coming home to roost. This is where “sad” kicks in.

The graduation information from the school has been ongoing for months, it’s true. What’s not said says more.

There’s no scholarship buzz, for starters. Parents who have birthed high school seniors know just what I mean. Your kid starts getting the high sign by the school early on — “grades, community involvement, great endeavor equals scholarships.” Students are advised to visit the counseling office to mine all possible scholarship applications. You, doing your part, chain them to the kitchen table until those are filled out and submitted. Then you hold your breath along with your kid, hoping some relief from the cost of tuition will be extended because your child was deemed worthy. Or lucky.

Not this time, not at our house.

We’re not getting the recruiter love, either. Not from colleges or military branches. Certainly, pieces of mass mailings have landed here, with color-soaked pictures of beautiful campuses and delighted students grinning in clean-cut joy. Or children flying Air Force planes, whatever.

This doesn’t mean my daughter is not bound for college. We’ll be talking to the right folks to find a good fit for the girl who dreams of being a chef. We’ll start with one class at a time and watch what happens.

And that’s so great. I get that. I know that in the world of developmentally disabled adults, our girl has more options than most. Her brain has organic damage that left holes in lobes, but there’s a lot that functions beautifully. Like areas that determine compassion, appreciation, musical ability and capacity to love.

But I’m a mom. I want what I want for my kid and I’m not going to get it this time. This message came home to me a few weeks ago at Whitman College.

My girl is blessed to be part of a program that pairs special-needs adults with Whitman students. The group meets twice a month for activities that everyone loves: karaoke, tie-dyeing, treasure hunts, movies. It’s amazing how happy both sides are to be together.

Yet when I watched my child sitting on brick steps surrounded by Whitties, there was that moment of pain — knowing my blond-headed baby would never be seemingly care-free on a college campus, in momentary limbo from the dive into adulthood.

Truth is, adulthood for her will look much like her childhood. For years.

We’re also missing out of the not-so-important stuff surrounding graduation. Like the birthday party invitations that dried up a decade ago, there will be no party after the official senior party. Or the excitement of friends planning a trip before going separate ways to college. Not the sweet promise of a last summer at home, when your parents are slightly more tolerable when a light is at the end of the tunnel.

Actually, all that is the important stuff.

This is my first graduation of a special-needs child. I’m not doing it as well as I hoped. On one hand, people will say there is no need to rain on everyone’s end-of-school parade. To those I ask to please refer to my first sentence.

Others will counsel me to look at the bright side. And I will. Sometimes, though, we have to recognize the gray passing over us and acknowledge it as a valid color.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or


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