Three graduations have Mom awash with pride

It turns out I didn’t need that pocket pack of Kleenex after all.

After three graduations in two weeks, plus all the attendant ceremonies and celebrations, I’ll admit to one weepy moment. That was at a mother-son brunch three weeks before my middle child’s high school graduation, so it barely counts.

On Saturday, when I spotted my firstborn in the wave of caps and gowns proceeding into Santa Clara University stadium, I only felt overwhelming pride, not a trace of sadness.

I was feeling a crazy kind of defiant joy that has kept my family going since my husband died seven years ago, when my children were 11 and 15.

When my daughter was 19, we discovered she had thyroid cancer. I’ll always be inspired by one memory of this gutsy kid. Against her doctors’ advice, she got on a plane the week after surgery and went back to college for a midterm exam. It was her sophomore year. She didn’t want to lose the quarter.

Healthy, happy and with six honor cords draped over her shoulders, she graduated on time. When her name was called Saturday and she walked across that stage, I was startled at my palpable sense of relief. The load on my shoulders felt suddenly lighter.

Her graduation alone makes this a milestone year, but I’ve been to three of them.

My son graduated June 1 from O’Dea High School in Seattle in a grand ceremony at St. James Cathedral. His college orientation is just days away.

And kindergarten? There’s no leaving without a formal goodbye. On June 8, before taking off for California, we went to my 6-year-old’s graduation celebration at Immaculate Conception/Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. My high-energy guy will advance to first grade. If there’s any doubt, I’ve got a certificate – it’s laminated.

Lately, I’ve been focused on everything but work. Which prom tuxedo looks best on my rock ‘n’ roll son? How can parents keep new grads safe? Who’s going to hire them?

Through it all, I took a few mental notes:

Best advice: Seattle Archbishop Alexander Brunett delivered a heartfelt address at O’Dea, an all-boys Catholic high school. It was surprisingly secular, and the most memorable speech I heard this month. Brunett shared with graduates three qualities that will serve them well throughout life: a sense of wonder, courage and the ability to keep moving forward.

Sign of generation gap: While I craned my neck to pick my daughter out in the crowd of more than 1,000 graduates, her boyfriend, seated next to me, called her on his cell phone. She immediately answered and told him right where she was. Calling her would never have occurred to me.

Platitude worth repeating: Tim Russert, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” was Santa Clara’s commencement speaker. He accepted an honorary doctor of public service degree with a simple “All right!” Later, he told graduates, “No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down and pulling up another person.”

Irritating incident: Somebody hired a small plane to fly over Santa Clara with a sign reading “Carmen Rosas SCU Class of 2005.” At first, it added to the festivities. As the airplane circled about 10 times, the buzz drowned out Russert and the speaker reading graduates’ names. I’m sure even Rosas was happy when it headed off for the horizon.

Best refreshments: A tie. It was hard to beat a champagne-and-strawberries reception in the garden at Santa Clara. Those resourceful kindergarten moms may have pulled it off. Their celebration potluck, with its taco theme food sign-up sheet, made for a guacamole graduation to remember.

Emotional moment: During graduation Mass at St. James Cathedral, someone read the names of all eight parents who had died, along with the names of their graduates. It was gratifying to know our loved ones weren’t forgotten.

Most appreciated: The night before my older son’s graduation, my father handed me a congratulations card. Inside was a generous gift, a tacit acknowledgement of what Russert would later say as he began his Santa Clara speech: “Mom and Dad, thank you for writing those checks.”

You’re welcome.

My advice? Write those checks. There’s no better investment in the world than education.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

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