It’s More Like A Certficate Than A Diploma

My youngest child graduated from elementary school on Friday. And I graduated, too. I talked up my excitement to the parents around me as we waited for Pomp and Circumstance to usher in our fourth graders.

“I’m ready to move on,” I said. Move on from the smells and crowds of young kids at family fun night. Move on from the plays, concerts, awards ceremonies and talents shows viewed from a metal folding chair I waited an extra 30 minutes to reserve.  Move on from visiting the playground on a hot summer day with a school-deprived child wanting to go back.

My bravado lasted through the entire ceremony, even the bestowal of diplomas. Then, they showed one of those end-of-the-year slide shows. The students laughed whenever the Orange Crush character appeared on the screen. KH told me later what it meant, but I still didn’t get it. I heard their laughter and thought how I felt like that every time I moved on in my life. How many private jokes I’d left behind.

Then came pictures of friends in groups with some sappy popular slow song, and I remembered my own sappy moments when I really had moved on. Those friends continued to be friends of sorts but they never were nearly as close as that moment on the camera.

The slide show concluded with a silly Winnie the Pooh quote about being together and remembering one another. That typical ending hit me just like it was supposed to. I didn’t get teary on the outside, but inside I was the one leaving Lowell Elementary for good.

I would never return for a parent-teacher conference and wait in the child-height chairs outside the door until it was my turn.  I would never return to surprise my child as a mystery reader and share a favorite story from the saddle chair or the big red box chair. I would never return to thank the principal who helped us register from out of state nine years ago when we knew no one in Minnesota.

My sorrow lasted a few seconds after the screen blackened. Then the lights came on. We clapped, hugged our graduate and made a quick dash to the refreshments. We’d knew from experience that the line would form quickly and stretch all the way back to the doors, and we didn’t want to repeat that memory.

The unexpected nostalgia prodded me to do two things that are easy to forget when the last one closes an era—express my gratitude and take lots of pictures. I encouraged her to show off her diploma, to which she said, “It’s more like a certificate than a diploma.”

Well, whatever it is, we earned it.


UPDATE  To This Post: Who noticed that I misspelled certificate in the headline? I didn’t until a few hours after I published it. Maybe I need to give back the certificate because I spelled it certficate. I’m leaving it as is as proof that we may have our degrees but we’re always learning.


  1. Alicia Johnson
    Jun 1, 2009

    Your post made me nostalgic for my own gradeschool years, which were so fun. I loved school–and I hope that when my little one is old enough, I can pass on that excitement for learning to him. But for now, I am just looking forward to seeing my husband graduate with his undergrad this August. That is another one of those shared victories . . . I’m not sure whether I will be more emotional about his day than I was about mine a couple years ago!

  2. T Jacobson
    Jun 1, 2009

    I don’t remember all of the private jokes, but while those moments are cherished from the past, some to never repeat, there is always the hope of the next moment to be cherished, if not repeated. That said, thank you for your part in some of my cherished moments that will never be repeated.

  3. Jane Hamilton
    Jun 2, 2009


    You have a really nice blog here! Reached your page from Scribbit (read your interview).

    I have a 2-year-old daughter, and I am looking forward to her years in school.

    Hope to come back to your page lots more to read about your life.

    Visit me at Ad Libitum (my blog).

  4. KH
    Jun 2, 2009

    Hey, I’m the one graduating here and these are the things I will miss: read aloud, recess, big lockers, teachers, having kindergartners walking around etc. These are some things I won’t miss: lunch, some teachers etc. I hope they will will at least have some of the things from this list.

  5. KH
    Jun 2, 2009

    oh certificate is spelled wrong.

  6. Jill Shelley
    Jun 2, 2009

    Oh I can so relate to this post! My sons are all grown and gone, but I clearly remember the last day my youngest son left elementary school for the last time. I think it was much more significant to me than it was to him. I had to DO something so I came home and planted a tree. I also cried more when he left middle school and his graduation from high school nearly did me in. The last one is the hardest to let go of. Oh the memories.

  7. Terresa Wellborn
    Jun 3, 2009

    I love posts like this one…and you wrote it so lovingly and honestly. It’s the crossroads of life (kids finishing elementary school, etc) that move us from the old to the new again. However ready or not we (and our children) are, time moves on and drags us with it.

    I have many many years until I leave our elementary school for good, but I’m already taking notes. And one thing for certain: I’ll remember to take lots of pictures.

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