As I watched my 5-year-old beam with pride as she posed for pictures with her teachers at the conclusion of preschool, I couldn’t help but to catch her contagious spirit. In the short ceremony prior, her eyes searched the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of me, cheering her on as she made steps towards kindergarten. Throughout the ceremony, I took in the view, mostly filled with misty-eyed parents and loved ones, eager to catch that Insta-worthy shot of another milestone met.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched my older daughters cling to all the culminating expectations that come in the month of May. They have studied for standardized tests, performed in first grade musicals, and waited in anxious anticipation for the swim team practice squad and the challenge soccer try out results to be posted. Throughout this month, more than most, they are celebrated for their hard work, dedication, and accomplishments. And I have promised to be there, for each and every milestone, cheering them on.
And while their enthusiasm is contagious, and they will never doubt my pride in their work ethic, this is not what I hope they learned this year. I do not want to downplay the significance of academic success or belittle their accomplishments, but my mind wanders to a less eco-centric field each and every May, when all the celebrating comes around.
I want my daughters to see the friend who is not looking forward to summer vacation, because they won’t be guaranteed breakfast and lunch each day without school. They need to recognize that not every parent is beaming with pride, or present, at these events. Maybe their child isn’t being recognized due to a tough year, or maybe the parent is living far away from their family, wishing they were home.
They should notice the teacher, drained from a year of pouring themselves into their students, and maybe not seeing any tangible return on their investment. I want them to take stock of the friend, who goes home to an empty house and has no social connection without school in session, or the friend who doesn’t want to go home at all, because it’s not safe.
While they are being wrapped in celebration, I want to know that my girls have learned that the content of their character far outweighs their score on a test. I want them to know, to the core of their being, that they are part of our community to contribute. And that their contribution is best when they notice the needs of others, and use their gifts to reach out in love and compassion to meet that need.
Success is not a quantifiable series of milestones that we can check off a list as our children move through their education. And while there may be parents and students everywhere celebrating, or simply heaving a sigh of relief, rest assured there are some who are not.
My darling girls, what I hope you learned this year is simply this:
Stop, look around, and notice who is hurting. Lend a listening ear to anyone who might be struggling. And use your gifts, knowledge, and compassion to look outside of yourselves to think about how you can give back to the world around you.
And then, you are truly successful.