This is How We Say Goodbye: An Open Letter to My Daughter, the Graduate

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This is how we say goodbye: in the years and months and weeks that lead up to the moment, not in that final string of minutes where we leave you in your dorm room. It doesn’t work that way. You see, we’ve been watching you graduate since the moment you first rolled from your back to your tummy on that soft, white baby blanket that I’m confident you still rely on from time to time. Know that once in a while, life will continue to fall short of your expectations, and you just won’t want to talk about it much. Soft blankets are good for days like those, so I hope you tuck yours into your suitcase.

This is how we say goodbye: we make the insignificant significant in order to slow the passing of time. Last week, I bought you a new lunch bag for school. I know it’s nearly June and that senior privilege has you out to lunch most days anyway, but it still matters, having a lunch bag, and yours has gone missing. You need it. More importantly, I need it. I’m suddenly regretting the fact that we’ve always expected you to pack your own lunch in high school. I’ll make you take it one more time before you graduate, so I can tuck a note inside just like I used to. Do you remember that? I know you do. I know you’ll entertain me, too.

This is how we say goodbye: in the darkest hours of the night, when you’re out with your friends, driving my car, and I find myself drifting off at last. A year ago, I would shake myself awake, determined to wait up for you. Now, I climb the stairs to my bedroom. I turn the volume up on my cell phone, but I turn the light down, knowing you will be fine. You’re a careful driver, but more importantly, I’ve watched you sacrifice your social status in order to do the right thing time and time again. I’ve answered the phone when you’ve called to reveal a bit of hard truth about the situation that you or a friend have just walked into. I know you won’t hesitate to make that call again. I don’t need to worry about you. You’ve earned our trust, and I’ve finally earned a full night’s sleep.

This is how we say goodbye: by fighting over deadlines, your overwhelming schedule, and the fact that your senior year is costing us almost as much as your freshman year of college might. I’m exaggerating of course, but I notice us saying goodbye by manufacturing a bit of distance when our closeness is too much to bear. For instance, I’m still uncertain if we need tickets for your graduation ceremony, but this is okay. It lets me be irritated with you. Irritation feels better than heartbreak. You know what I mean. You’re irritated with me too.

This is how we say goodbye: by closing many other chapters beside this one, and by opening dozens of new doors as well. Your dad and I are making new friends, starting new hobbies, and taking on different job responsibilities as well. We’re filling our lives with new people and new promises to keep. We’re showing you that graduation is just as much a beginning as it is an ending. The road doesn’t end, even as teacher-moms like me watch their kids graduate. It simply bends. There are so many things to look forward to.

This is how we say goodbye: by planting gardens, fixing ceilings, tearing out carpets, and digging up those photos I’ve kept in a scrapbook for far too long. There you are at two and four and six and ten: your generation grew up in front of a camera, it’s true. You’re waving at me from inside the tiny picture frames that line our mantel now, and you’ve used your new-found art skills to add a gorgeous sketch of our family. We’ve all grown up together, and we have so much to be proud of. I’m making room for new memories, too.

We’ve taught you to live simply inside our cozy little home. You’ve helped us fill it with laughter, and we’ve taken good care of this place together too. If you’ve learned anything, it’s that square footage and cash don’t make a house a home. Love and care and attention do, and that’s as true for the physical foundation as it is for the one that our family is built on.

It’s no wonder that a big part of you doesn’t want to graduate, but we all knew that one day, it would be time for you to fly. This is how we’ve tried to make a soft place for you to land.

This is how we say goodbye.

It’s how we’ll welcome you home again, too.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at

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