Recently, someone close to me reached a huge goal. She called me, a mix of relief and joy in her voice, to tell me the news. She celebrated a graduation day of a special kind.
Not everyone knew what she went through. Not everyone could see her struggle. Most didn’t even know she was on this path. It was a kind of schooling that she took on not because anyone said she had to. It was the kind of schooling she took on just for herself. When the time was right, she volunteered. She committed. Invested. She did the work.
Not many people knew what brought her to the doorstep of that school. She was pretty quiet about the learning she had to do, the lessons involved, the tests she brought upon herself. She found her own teacher, someone she thought could help her find her way to her goals. And she worked with that teacher faithfully to learn what she needed to know. She did the work. There is no substitute for doing the work.
Life is full of schools. Some are official, with bells and class rosters. Some schools are of our own making, when we decide it’s time to level up, or maybe level out. There are schools of hard knocks and schools of higher learning. Schools for driving and schools where we learn to be a passenger. Lessons from classrooms, lessons from the streets, and life lessons that we have to learn over and over again, sometimes the hard way. But for the most part, once we get past the tweenage years, the schools we attend are by choice.
It takes courage to take ourselves to school when we know we need to learn something but it won’t be fun or easy. These kinds of schools aren’t required. No attendance officer is going to call you if you don’t show up. Holding ourselves accountable can be one of the biggest challenges we face when the topics are tough and the lessons are long. Homework is the deep challenge of learning, unlearning, and relearning how to think and live. We may not get grades, but we know when we’ve failed and when we’ve passed.
It’s not the kind of graduation where she gets a cap and gown. No cords for clubs or uncomfortable seats. No one is sending her gifts or cards. No diploma will hang on her wall. But she does wave at the crowd, whether you recognize it or not. She smiles with a deeply confident face and a fresh mind. She doesn’t stride across the stage and shake hands. Instead, she treads a quiet victory, walking her new walk every day.
There may be no certificate, no tassel, but still…she tosses her hat into the air in an inspiring way, sharing her journey and her learning as she sees fit. To witness her journey and her graduation brought me to a new, deep level of respect for her. I celebrate her today and every day, as she bounds toward her next classroom.