Friday was my daughter’s graduation from middle school. Over 400 students graduated with her. Although people may not consider this event as important as a high school or college graduation, I learned something important from attending. This past school year was not an easy one for Holly or for us. Early in the first semester, she began experiencing panic attacks that made it difficult for her to attend classes. While a few of her friends and classmates found her problem hard to understand and some even thought she was pretending to get out of school, I knew better because when I’d started what was then called junior high, I had my own issues with anxiety. My parents switched me to another school where I coped better, but it was years before I was finally able to control those debilitating feelings. Luckily, Holly received support from the school social worker and a private counselor so that she could manage her fears and stay at the middle school where she’d made many friends. However, there were days she couldn’t make it into classes at all. For a girl who had college-level Lexile scores and scored in the top 90 per cent of her peer group in state testing, her grades began to drop because of the lessons she’d missed.
So when Holly’s name was called in the auditorium on Friday, we were especially proud of her for persevering. She managed to pass two regents exams including the Algebra regents that she found particularly challenging. Her grades had risen back up in the last semester, and she was making strides to cope with her anxiety. While I found the speeches leading up to the delivery of diplomas boring as most graduation speeches are, one speech still stays in my mind. It was given by the school’s superintendent who told the gathered students that he was giving them gifts that had secrets attached to them. One of the gifts was that he wished them luck and that the secret to attracting it is hard work and making the right choices. Looking back at my own life, I realized that point was true. The things I’ve achieved, my own graduation from library school with a Master’s Degree, losing sixty pounds last year, and publishing my novels, have all been the result of hard work but also because I made choices to move in those directions when I went back to school after working as a secretary, when I joined Jenny Craig and committed to the program, and when I sat at my computer and started writing my first book. Likewise, my husband’s graduating college and working as a computer technician despite the disability he’s had since he was 13, wasn’t without challenges that he had to overcome.
The other point Superintendent Bonuso made was regarding the transition from Middle School to High School. He compared it to a bridge that one needed to cross by holding on to a rail (symbolic of a friend, parent, teacher, or other support person). If a rail wasn’t available, he said, one needed to center one self and walk in the middle of the bridge. The concept of finding balance as one moves forward can apply to anyone whether you are starting a new job, a new relationship, or even just taking a trip. Change requires a psychological as well as physical adjustment. The middle schoolers crossing the bridge to high school have gone through many changes in their bodies as well as their minds. They were addressed as young men and women, no longer children graduating elementary school. Their new bridge is wider, scarier, but also features more opportunities on the other side. While I hope my daughter crosses that bridge with less anxiety or holds on to a rail if need be, I also hope she learns to center herself, find a balance to help her cope with any rickety “planks” along the way.
What I learned from Holly’s graduation is that when you want something, you shouldn’t give up just because it’s hard or you face challenges to reach it. I know Holly wasn’t the only student who had difficulties this last year of middle school or any of the three years leading to graduation. However, there are kids who don’t ask for help. They think they’re alone with their troubles – whether it be anxiety, difficulty learning, problems with a bully, or even a friend. There are so many issues teenagers face at this age, but problems don’t disappear when you become an adult. They can then involve work, relationships, family, and a multitude of other issues. We all have to learn how to maneuver our bridges. As an author, I often feel like I want to give up, that I’m not reaching enough people with my books, and it’s too much work to promote them. But the prospect of sales isn’t what keeps me writing, querying agents, and marketing my novels. It’s about sharing the words that I hope will touch others so they enjoy my stories, take something away from the writing – an idea, a lesson, a question, an emotion . . . I can’t quit when the going gets tough because I need to keep crossing those bridges. I need to find where my writing takes me. And as I’m thankful for all the people who helped my daughter cross the Middle School bridge, I’m thankful for the support of my publisher and fellow authors as well as my family and readers who are helping me cross the publishing bridge. There are lots of rocky spots and reasons to turn back on this journey, but I move forward thanks to you all.