I made my graduation cap yesterday. And underneath my Bruce Springsteen quote, I didn't have enough room to write what everyone else says, "Thank you Mom and Dad." My parents will look at my cap from the nosebleed seats and think, "wow our daughter is so ungrateful" and also "wow our daughter has great taste in music."
But as I painted, trying not to smudge the gold paint, I realized that saying thank you on a square on top of my head just isn't enough. I would need entire canvases, entire museums to display the gratitude I have towards my parents. Because I'm not thanking them for four years, I'm thanking for all 22.
It's a strange feeling knowing that you're not going to be a student anymore. I've done this for 16 years. The last time I wasn't a student, I was four and I was anxiously waiting for my first day of kindergarten. When the monumental September day came, my mom packed up my hand-me-down purple Jansport and walked me to the bus stop down the street. As the yellow bus pulled up, I was mortified. Looking down at my light blue platform vans, I blinked underneath my bowl cut, trying to make the impending tears disappear. I turned around on the the top bus stair and looked back at my mom standing there. She was smiling in her bathrobe, holding her coffee mug with two hands amongst the other moms. She gave me a thumbs up, and I remember feeling alright. I remember a sense of ease, a sense of safety. And from that next step onto the bus, I had started my life as a student.
My memories from there on out are dictated by school. My first history bee, in which I failed miserably and got out the first round. The mortifying moment of when I puked in front of my entire 4th grade class. The 5th grade award ceremony where I wore a terrible completely orange outfit that still haunts me to this day. Middle school flew by even faster with mixed memories of terrible body odor, stupid crushes and very awkward sex ed. classes. High school was how most high schools are. Heartbreaks, game winning goals, SAT scores and unnecessary drama that seemed like the end of the world at the time.
What I didn't realize was that at every major event in my life, my parents were there in the backdrop. At the monthly award ceremonies where I would get a participation award, my parent's were there with the family camera and a brand new roll of film. Every sporting event that went into double overtime, my parent's were cheering me on waiting to take me and my smelly equipment home. Every father's day my dad was sitting right next to me in school, clearly too big for the elementary plastic chairs, marveling at the terrible popsicle craft I had made him. And everyday, up until my last day of senior year, I had a brown paper bag lunch made by my dad.
So how do I say thank you for that? The countless hours, the money spent, and the incredible opportunities they gave me? How could I thank two people that gave me the world? A world of paper bagged lunches, developed film and chaperoned field trips. One day when I'm out there in the real world, I'll hit the jackpot and buy my parent's a new house or a new car...but even that won't be enough.
So I hope my parents read this and know that there is no thank you big enough for them. Not even close.
That first step across the graduation stage is going to be terrifying. And as I take a step, looking at my wooden wedges underneath my purple graduation cap, I'll know that my parents are standing behind me smiling with two thumbs up. Because just like my first day of being a student, I'll take my last step with the greatest support team behind me. The two of them, holding their coffee cups with two hands, knowing I can do it.