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The Focused Student: Graduation — one of our greatest rites of passage

Another year of school has passed and another graduation is upon us. From kindergarten to middle school to high school, each step has often been taken with a cohort of childhood friends. The culmination of this march to education is high school graduation; beyond its boundaries, paths will inevitably diverge. Graduation is the last opportunity for students to celebrate with their childhood friends.

This is one of America's greatest rites of passage, and well it should be. This is more than a celebration of an educational milestone. It is also a marker of passage into adulthood. At graduation, most students will be approaching (or have recently passed) their 18th birthday, when they can vote and accept legal obligations such as contracts and credit card debt. They are now adults in the eyes of the justice system as well. We're really doing double duty with high school graduation — graduating from high school and graduating into adulthood.

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Not to make a great event a grind, but sometime around graduation is a great time to sit down with your student and acknowledge all that has been accomplished. He or she has completed 12 years of schooling and learned not only academic topics but also social skills, work skills, habits and attitudes that will serve a lifetime. That's a lot. The advances and increases are small on a day-by-day basis, but when you step back a bit and take a look, you can see the full arc of achievement. Praise and celebrate it. There is a lot to praise and celebrate for every student.

Graduation is also a good time for each parent to adopt a change of attitude and start seeing the graduate as the adult he or she now is. It's not easy. Your student is still your child, but not a child. It's a good time to acknowledge that by respecting contrary decisions while still offering counsel and guidance. In a very important way, this is your graduation as well. You are graduating from concerned and responsible parent to a more co-equal status based on mutual respect and accepting that your child is not you.

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High school graduation acknowledges both completion and capability. Students should look back and feel good knowing that they managed 12 years of sometimes intense learning. If they can do it in high school, they can do it for another four years in college, community college, trade school, or on-the-job training. Twelve years (plus kindergarten) of school make a statement that, "You are able to function on your own and be a community person in good standing."

For some, high school graduation will be a time of mixed emotions. For many students, high school wasn't the experience they expected or wanted it to be. From bullying to anxiety to academic challenges, many things can happen that disrupt the dream. If that's your student, pointing out that there's more ahead than behind can help. So does pointing out that they are transitioning to a new environment, with a new chance to make things work as they want. It's a good time for reflection, consideration and planning for the future.

I congratulate this year's graduates. I hope they will recognize all that they've accomplished and that they will participate in our greatest rite of passage and have happy and prosperous lives beyond that special day. May all their days be special, may all their wishes come true.

And parents, I congratulate you, too. Your achievements to date have also been monumental, often against great odds. You've done the biggest part of the parenting job, and now you hand the reins over to your son or daughter.

Happy graduation.

ROBERT FRANK is the executive director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a master's of science degree in special education and has more than 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be reached at frank@hillsideforsuccess.org.

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