My sister, who is three years younger than I am, graduated from high school on Saturday, and like most big sisters, I have plenty of words of advice and encouragement to share with her. I thought I would take the opportunity to share an open letter from a proud big sister to her accomplished little sister.

Dear Madeline,

I am so excited for you that this day has finally come! Congratulations, graduate! I know the countless hours you worked to accomplish your academic goals, so enjoy the payoff.

Watching your graduation ceremony, I was obviously proud. Seeing you in your cap and gown, stole, medals, and cords, I felt satisfied for you that you were being recognized for all of your hard work. I was proud of the way that you applied yourself to your education and that you had succeeded, but I felt even more proud as we left the ceremony.

I watched as various classmates approached you and took pictures with you. They all lit up when they saw you, and I couldn't help but consider what a testament to your personality and your behavior toward others their reactions were. While you certainly excelled in scholarship throughout your years in high school, it became quite apparent today that you achieved something more important than that: you made people happy to be around you.

You have always been one of the most charismatic people I've known, so it was sweet for me to see that you carry that to school with you. For your classmates to be overcome with joy when they see you, you must be genuinely sharing yourself with them, and that is a feat in itself.

I am so proud of you for never shying away from who you are, whether that's being silly, quirky, or deciding that you can wear a sweatshirt and go without makeup whenever you want to because that's just how it is. I am proud of you for being comfortable in your own skin, and for having the courage to be yourself regardless of who is around.

It also became clear that you treat your peers with kindness. As I watched your interactions with them, your demeanor as well as you words were sweet and uplifting. It is so special to be that kind of person, and I am pleased to know that you shine a light into the lives of those around you.

I cannot wait to see all that God has in store for your life. He gave you incredible gifts; you are brilliant, you know how to work with others, you are brave, and you are compassionate. I know that you will go far and that your life will be filled with many more accomplishments for us to celebrate with you. I pray that you not only continue to succeed in your education, but that you also always maintain your charisma and kindness throughout your life.

Know that I am always here for you, and that I will always be your big sister and your biggest fan. I'll miss you terribly when you go off to college, but that's just your next step in reaching your dreams. Now, on to the exciting next chapter of your life!