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My View: Never pass up a chance to celebrate milestones

By Jennie Rook

I love celebrations. I always have. As I was growing up, my grandfather used to say that my birthdays rivaled the Olympic Games, complete with opening and closing ceremonies. He’d clap his arm around my shoulder and say, “You know how to do it right, Jens. You know how to do it right.” I still love celebrations.

As this school year drew to a close, my family, like so many across the nation, celebrated two milestones. My oldest son is moving from middle school to high school, and my youngest is moving from elementary school to middle school. Two big milestones; two big reasons to celebrate.

I can’t help but remember my younger son’s preschool graduation, held six years ago in the auditorium of the school he’ll be attending in the fall. It was a challenge for so many reasons.

We arrived at the ceremony and, like most mornings at preschool drop off, I untangled his death grip from around my neck as I handed him over to Miss Molly, the best preschool teacher on the planet. She assured me she would dress him in his cap and gown and get him across the stage. With trepidations, I left him in her care, hoping for the best.

In the auditorium, while my family chatted pleasantly, I was finding it hard to breathe. I was desperate to see him cross that stage. Desperate. There is no other word for it.

Earlier that year, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I had had a mastectomy in the spring, and by June, I was well into my chemo regimen. I sat in that auditorium hiding my desperation under the brim of a hat and felt my blood pulsing through my temples. My hands shook.

What if this was the only graduation I would live to see? What if this was my only shot to see him in a cap and gown? He had to get across that stage, and I had to see him do it. The promise of tomorrow was no longer as certain as it had once been. I needed to see him graduate. We needed to celebrate.

True to her word, Miss Molly wrangled my son into the satiny green graduation apparel, and he processed into the auditorium with the rest of his preschool class. He had an uncertain expression on his face when his name was called. He furrowed his brow. I held my breath. But sure enough, he clomped up the steps, his Lightning McQueen sneakers blinking with each step. With a look of chagrin, he accepted his diploma from Miss Molly. We clapped wildly, and tears streamed down my face. He had made it, and I was there to witness it.

We celebrated him that evening with gusto, and last month we celebrated both of my children. I am so proud of them. I am so lucky to be here with them. With nostalgia’s shadow lingering in the doorway, I’m reminded of that evening six years ago. I am reminded of what almost wasn’t. And I can’t help but be conscious of how important each day, each moment, can be.

These milestones – all of our milestones – need to be acknowledged.

Musician Robert Breault said, “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
Celebrations are important. Birthdays, preschool graduations, middle school awards – they’re all precious. They remind us to seize every opportunity, to gather our rosebuds and to live each day as our best day. In this season of milestones, blessed are those who celebrate.

Jennie Rook, an English teacher at Clarence Middle School, lives in Clarence Center and loves to celebrate.
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