I hope you will forgive me if I use this article for a moment of personal privilege. My wife and I recently returned from the college graduation of our youngest child. It was an extraordinary event for so many reasons and both of us felt deep emotion on so many different levels. Maimonides teaches that when our youngest grandchild becomes Bar/Bat Mitzvah, we have fulfilled the mitzvah of v’shinantam l’vanecha, teach your children diligently (taken from the Shema and V’ahavta in the Torah). On a secular level, we both remarked about the significance of this event for our parents. My parents didn’t have the opportunity to graduate from college. My dad never attended and my mother attended for just a short time. Times were different since it was the depression. My in-laws both attained PhD’s and spend a significant amount of their lives (and my mother-in-law continues to spend time) in an academic environment.
We both remarked about the special meaning this day would have had for them. My dad felt it was so important for all my brothers and me to graduate college and I remember the tense conversation about whether I would go for a professional baseball tryout when I was 19 years old. If I went to the tryout and was good enough to be assigned to a team, I would have had to drop out of college which was unacceptable so I did not try out. My mother was always the one who helped with homework and felt very strongly about the importance of a college education. We have been told that if she had been able to attend, she might have enrolled at the University of Chicago because of her academic abilities.
The day following graduation we went from Bloomington, Indiana to visit my mother-in-law in Urbana, Illinois so that we could celebrate this momentous occasion with her. She remarked how special it was to know that all of her grandchildren have graduated from college or are currently attending college. We also visited my father-in-law’s grave so that our youngest could make a connection with the person after whom he is named and so he could in some way share the moment with his namesake.
So…why am I sharing this with you? As we sat at graduation, it was an emotional moment for both of us. I know that my wife was crying and although I would never admit this publicly , I had tears in my eyes. When we thought about how for the last 32 years we always talked about how our purpose was to be able to help our children attend college. Realizing that this phase of life is over (although loans remind us that it really isn’t over yet:-)), we are both excited and in search of new purposes in life. Many of us make significant sacrifices in our lives so that our children can obtain a college education and teaching our children diligently is an important purpose.
As we discuss our “new purpose” in life, we are realizing that “teaching our children” never ends and that as they grow and face new challenges, hopefully sharing our experiences will allow us to continue to be role models and teachers.
Mazel tov to all who are reading this who are either graduating or have family members graduating. Graduation is clearly a very significant occasion in all of our lives and yashir koach (may we all derive strength) from these moments.
If you are graduating and/or are college student, please take a moment to say thanks to those who make your college education a possibility.
Shabbat Shalom and thanks for allowing me to share these personal thoughts. We feel truly blessed at this shecheianu moment in our lives, a wonderful time to give thanks and to be grateful to have reached this significant occasion.
Enjoy a wonderful summer!
Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor