KATIE ZERR: Graduations mark life’s biggest changes

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This is the time of year when many people are reflecting on their lives as they watch their children cross the stage to take the cherished high school diplomas in hand.

In the audience, parents and grandparents are remembering the first time the word “momma” crossed their lips, or when they tied a string to that first loose tooth and the doorknob for the at-home extraction.

There are thoughts of the first time the plastic bat made that glorious sound as it made contact with the plastic ball or the first time dad was roundly defeated in a game of “horse.”

Some travel back to that first scout camping trip or the first time that discus landed in record-breaking territory. First dates, driver’s licenses and the first time they packed a bag for an overnight trip they were taking without their parents.

It is not just the family members who are impacted in a small town. So are the neighbors, the teachers, doctors and dentists, business owners and the person who removed the first curls from the heads of the now graduates.

Many of those whose lives were touched by the cap-and- gown-clad teens think about the first time he or she climbed the apple tree in the back yard to snitch the ripe ones near the top or the determined look on the face of the youngster as they mowed neighborhood lawns trying to raise money for that go-cart or new rod and reel.

Mothers, grandmothers and family members have scrambled with last-minute preparation for graduation parties. There will be hours of reflection and celebration as family and friends “remember when” while munching on sandwiches and the graduates’ favorite snacks. Grads will receive cards from friends and relatives who could not attend the party that will spark more memories.

The roller coaster of emotions won’t end at graduation for most parents. There are so many more times in future when reminiscing will be triggered all over again.

But for some grads, this is the defining moment of their lives. It means freedom and a new-found independence from their parents. It means starting an exciting journey out into the real world. It means leaving the life they had known for 18 years and the first stage of their relationship with their parents in the review mirror.

Some will travel to the far reaches of the world for jobs or just for adventure; some may only travel to Bismarck or Sioux Falls. It may not seem far to most, but for some it will seem like another country.

Some will stay right here to work with their families or create their own business. Some will get married and start a family right away. Others will pursue careers that take them long into their lives without spouses or families.

We watch the nearly grown-up faces burst into a smile when one of the biggest accomplishments of their short lives is raised above their heads in triumph, knowing there are so many more of these moments ahead.

Whatever the future holds for those graduating this spring, it will change lives. It will change our world.

Crossing the stage at Mobridge-Pollock High School or in Selby or Timber Lake or at Wakpala School could be the person who discovers the definitive cure for all cancer or the planet that is earth’s mirror image that will be colonized in their lifetime. Walking across the stage in Herreid or McLaughlin or in Fort Yates may be that person who will lead the free world in the next generation.

Graduation is our microcosmic reminder of our constantly changing world. To us, it may be the day we reflect back on the first step, the first words, the first homerun, but for others it is time to look to the future and embrace the change.

Some day these young men and women may watch their own children walk across the stage to accept diplomas. The way the world is changing, maybe something else will take the place of the traditional graduation ceremony, but there needs to remain some marker of the life change and what lies ahead.

It is part of who we are and who we have and what we will become.

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