You, the baby who entered the world dramatically, unresponsive and frighteningly silent, the one who made me a mother for the first time and who has only ever been late to one event in your entire life – your due date — and only ever “failed” one test (the APGAR) — YOU are graduating from college.
While you were still tucked inside of me, I wrote letters and tucked them into your baby book. Those letters were written by a woman who didn’t know you. So, they focused on things I thought you might like to know someday: details about my pregnancy, some of your family history, and how Dad and I met, and how excited we were to become a family.
Then I wrote a few letters to you after you were born. I still didn’t know you, but I was getting hints about who you might become. Your alert eyes and your animated expressions provided some clues about the personality that would soon open like a flower, revealing an explosion of color and beauty that had only been hinted at when it was just a bud.
Now, as I attempt to write a letter that would honor your accomplishments, document your college career and offer some words of wisdom as you embark on the next phase of your life, I find myself at a loss. Every word or phrase seems to fall short of the mark. Picture collages and Facebook posts are inadequate.
I can only offer you what is bubbling up from my heart. And that is an overwhelming pride for who you are and gratitude for how you have handled yourself as you marched (too quickly) into adulthood. I want you to know that I noticed when you sacrificed, when you put in the extra effort, when you made the right decision or the hard choice. I want you to know that I cherish the relationship we have, and that I acknowledge what you have done to make that relationship possible.
What I want to say is this. I noticed and I SAW when you:
- Never gave up on your goal of swimming in college, even though you faced year after year of disappointing swim meet results.
- Carefully researched your college options and chose the school and the swim program that was right for you.
- Navigated a challenging living situation in college with maturity and grace that I know I would not have possessed at 18.
- Chose your college friends carefully, and chose well.
- Lived on a budget, and a tight one at that, and stayed within that budget.
- Opted to get a job – actually two jobs — to have more spending money.
- Recognized that there was too much on your plate – those two jobs, swimming and school — and wisely chose to live on less money so you could maintain balance.
- Came home during the summers and assimilated back into our family, honoring our desire to have you home at a reasonable time and to know where you were, while also contributing to the household duties as if you’d never left.
- Gave us plenty of your time on your visits and summers home, making it to all family functions and holidays and just hanging out with us.
- Called and texted us regularly, keeping us connected to you and letting us continue to be a part of your life.
- Said thank you. A lot.
- Recognized the time when you needed some help from Mom and Dad and had the courage to ask for that help.
- Worked through some big decisions your sophomore year, not the least of which was the decision that after 14 years, it was time to retire from swimming.
- Maturely handled a long-distance relationship with the man that you love.
- Worked full time last summer while also taking an LSAT prep course and completed two college courses so that you could graduate a full year early.
- Diligently completed law school applications and essays and secured acceptances and scholarship offers from four major schools.
- Stepped in beside the man that you love during the darkest hours of his life, grieving with him while also supporting him and giving him the space to grieve in his own way.
- Handled everything your senior year of college, including choosing your law school, applying for the financial aid you’ll need to cover it, while also allowing Mom and Dad the opportunity to be a part of the process.
- Remained my daughter, letting me remain your Mom, giving me the right to occasionally make a “Mom demand” or request or correction, but also, most importantly, became my friend.
So, my previous baby girl – I see YOU and I am proud. It is my greatest hope that as you head out into this adult world, you can see yourself through my lens, your father’s lens and the lens of the God who created you and abundantly blessed you with so many gifts. If you can do that, you will see a picture of a young woman who can and will do great things.
—– Gretchen Cox graduates Cum Laude on May 14, 2016 from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. In just three years, she completed a bachelor of arts degree, double majoring in political science and history. She was inducted into both the History and the Political Science honor societies, and she just won an award for the outstanding research on a paper she wrote on the Great Depression and Appalachia. She will attend the St. Louis University School of Law starting in August 2016.