Last week we gathered under a big white tent to celebrate my daughter’s college graduation. Friends, family members, faculty, and a student body of smart young women were launched out into the world with the blessings of their own personal communities gathered from around the country. Similar celebrations of academic achievements and life passages were taking place all over the country.
The morning began with African drummers. Their powerful music filled the tent as the students and faculty began their way toward us. People of all ages began swaying in anticipation of the graduates’ arrival. When their caps and gowns became visible, a hush came over the crowd. When the diverse group of young women entered the tent, whoops of joy filled the air. The mood was festive and joyful.
One of my favorite memories was when the first young woman walked across the stage to receive her diploma. As the college president reached out to offer her congratulations, the graduate’s father rose from his seat and exclaimed, “Thank you Lord!” We all laughed, appreciating the sentiment. There was similar laughter when a group of proud brothers stood and proclaimed, “That’s MY sister!” This was a graduation ceremony full of joy, goodwill, family, friends, and lots of love – just the kind of celebration every young person deserves as she/he is heading out into the world.
Afterwards there was a luncheon on the lawn and the opportunity for family and friends to take photographs. As I look at the myriad of photos on my husband’s laptop, I am struck by the profound importance of being surrounded by a community of people who believe in you, support you, and want the best for you; people who stand up and cheer when you walk across the stage of life.
When they are infants, we hold our young babies in our arms and stand in awe of their potential, and all of the possibilities that life holds for them. If they are children of wealth, they are given every possible opportunity to experience, engage, and to savor a rich array of life experiences. If they are children of poverty it’s a different story.
Children of poverty who experience foster care need us to understand that the most important things we can do in this country is look at life in the public foster care system though their eyes. To pay attention, to listen, and then to be compelled to act.. They need us to invest in them. Wouldn’t it be amazing accomplishment if the responsible adults in each region of America figured out better ways to get communities of people to surround each child in their neighborhood so that when they walk across “their stage” we will be there cheering, clapping, and calling out, “That’s OUR child!”