Graduation-an ultimate rite of passage.

By Elaine Voci, Ph.d. Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant®

UPDATE Administrators Note: In many locations around the world, schools and educational institutions are facing the reality of Covid19 which is impacting the traditional rituals and rites of passage for students at all levels.  We are bringing back this blog post from 2018 that speaks to the value of graduation in hopes that it will assist in solidifying why it’s an important ceremony and perhaps inspiring people to find alternative, safe and meaningful opportunities to acknowledge this special occasion.

May and June are the months of numerous graduation ceremonies, a time when a graduate’s personal star shines more brightly in the sky as we mark the passage of time and progress in life. Most cultures consider graduation from high school a major milestone and one of the last remaining “rites of passage” in modern societies.

During the early 20th century, the Belgian anthropologist Arnold Van Gennen observed that all cultures have prescribed ways for an individual and society to deal with emotionally charged transitions from one phase of life to another.  In today’s world, we have graduation ceremonies with a commencement address, where diplomas are awarded to each graduate with a handshake and are typically followed by parties where graduates receive gifts of money and the well wishes of invited guests.

But if we look below the surface we can see that graduation ceremonies are more than just a celebration of earning a diploma. If the ceremony was only about that achievement, then the rite itself would feel more joyful than it usually does. Smiles on graduation day are always blended with tears and a melancholy nostalgia. Graduation takes on special significance in our culture as the one transition where we honor the exciting, challenging, and painful process of “letting go” that begins before high school even starts. The teenager must let go of a childhood and the safety of dependence, and the parents must let go of the emotional anchor around which they oriented a great deal of their lives.

It is vital that we honor more than just the student and more than just education at a
graduation ceremony; we need to celebrate the special journey that each graduate is making of growing up.  A journey destined to each finding out who they are, what they are naturally good at doing, how they can go into the world and support themselves, and most of all, that they are lifelong learners born with a unique set of skills and gifts to share in this world and leave it a better place than when they arrived.

Here is a blessing you can share with a high school graduate close to you this year; it comes from the beautiful book, To Bless the Space Between Us, by the gloriously gifted poet, John O’Donohue. I have excerpted his poem titled, “For Your Birthday”…

Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day

The blueprint of your life

Would begin to glow on earth,

Illuminating all the faces and voices

That would arrive to invite

Your soul to growth.

Praised be your father and mother

Who loved you before you were,

And trusted to call you here

With no idea who you would be…

Blessed be those who have loved you

Into becoming who you were meant to be…

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

Your health, eyes to behold the world,

Thoughts to countenance the unknown,

Memory to harvest vanished days…

May you open the gift of solitude

In order to receive your soul;

Enter the generosity of silence

To hear your hidden heart;

Know the serenity of stillness

To be enfolded anew

By the miracle of your being.

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