By Kim Singer
I’m on pins and needles today.
My daughter, Ella, is picking up her cap, gown, and cords, the physical reminders that she is graduating in days from Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
It has been a monthlong marathon of parties, brunches, photoshoots, dinners, awards, all culminating with her walking across the stage on June 8 to claim her diploma.
These are all good things, and we are truly humbled to be part of making good memories with good people.
This last year, exceptional to all around the world, has given our family so much extra time together, and although I will miss her, I also know she is ready for the next part of her life.
All parents feel emotional thinking about their child graduating high school. End of an era, new chapters, fresh starts… there are so many colloquialisms around graduating.
This graduation feels particularly heavy, though.
When Ella was born, she was in the NICU for one week. I vividly recall a thought I had while rocking her in the few moments a day they allowed me to hold her, “I can’t wait to see her grow up and graduate high school.”
Yet, I have arrived here, and exactly half of my heart and half of my brain is attuned to these special moments. The other half still goes down the rabbit hole, trying to understand why nine other children are not also walking the stage, to which no amount of mental gymnastics can answer.
It has taken me four years, but I no longer feel guilty about my child’s high school experience. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with why them and not mine. The guilt of celebrating milestones when others cannot, and the guilt that life did move on for us, albeit differently.
The brutal violence of that day is still as hard to think about, but I no longer feel guilty that her innocence was ripped from her, as it built her resilience at the same time. Even so, as a parent, there has never been a milestone or life event since that is not clouded over in thinking of the fortune my child has in simply being able to grow up.
I have learned I can only stick with what I do know. I do know that the friends Ella lost would be happy for her. Happy that she continued to be a strong student, leader, and volunteer. Happy to see her go to college to continue to build upon being the best person she can be.
I also know that the intense emotions of these days do not live in isolation. I can be happy for my daughter and thinking of her future while also thinking of Alaina, Alex, Alyssa, Cara, Gina, Jaime, Luke, Martin, and Peter and be so sad and angry that they were robbed of theirs.
My heart can be both heavy and full at the same time for completely opposing reasons.
As their four years ends, I do continue to try and rationalize that nine of these children were murdered at age 14-15, as freshman, yet four years later, there has been no justice served.
Nothing tangible that any student leaving that school can say happened to deliver justice to their teachers, friends, and classmates. They are leaving with the same loose ends that unraveled on February 14, 2018.
While I do not pretend to know or understand the legal machinations behind the case and do not fault anyone, I only care that my child is leaving with absolutely no closure.
I am also certain my current tenth grader will also never see the building removed either, or like her sister before her, will continue to walk by the scene of one of the deadliest mass school shootings daily. If anyone did care about student mental health, maybe start with addressing that disturbing fact.
At a recent awards ceremony, Ella commented that almost none of her ninth and tenth-grade teachers remain at the school. No one remains that have known her throughout high school. There are all new guidance counselors, Assistant Principals, Principals, and staff.
As the final graduating class since the shooting, I cannot say how they really feel about bidding this last class goodbye. It is the end of something I cannot quite name.
As a parent, I do not begrudge all the changes, and as much as I know my child is ready to leave, perhaps the school is equally ready for us to leave as well.
I am not certain there are ever truly fresh starts, as we carry life’s bumps and bruises with us, but there are always fresh perspectives.
I am thankful to be here, on the precipice of seeing this chapter close, and while I somewhat hold the sentimentality of a chapter closing, I am eager to slam this particular book shut.
To each of our graduating seniors, may you live your fullest life, in whatever ways that fulfill you, and know you can do anything.
Kim Singer is a Coral Springs parent who works in education She has two daughters, ages 18 and 16. She continues to be inspired every day by people trying to make things better.
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