“There is a good reason they call these ceremonies ‘commencement exercises’. Graduation is not the end, it’s the beginning.” -Orrin Hatch

I attended my son’s high school graduation tonight and listened as one of his classmates shared a quote from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” The young man recounted his own experience of multiple college rejections and concluded that trying and failing is always better than not trying at all. His wisdom about the effort and courage to continue despite the odds gave the ceremony the meaning I was searching for.

Graduations have been an ambivalent experience for me since my own. Clouded by an old narrative of my dysfunctional original family, I had never really felt like the graduation was a commencement for me. I was not able to begin from this point, as I think many people, both kids and families, struggle with the letting go and moving forward that these moments bring up.

Letting go is a process that starts on the inside if it has any chance of success on the outside. What is unresolved in us stays with us. New beginnings happen in us naturally when the past is acknowledged and assimilated into our present. Pearl Buck wrote: “Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.” The urge to grow and move forward is as natural to the human species as our need to sleep, eat and love. We are born for the continuous change and development that our life time permits.

This process of moving forward is more easily accomplished as we master the letting go. Sometimes all it takes is having the courage to shine the light of our attention on the places inside of us that need to be heard. It is actually remarkable how quickly wounds that have stayed with us for decades, emotional imprints that seemed intractable will lift and shift with this simple decision to pay attention to our selves.

I am grateful to have witnessed this process of letting go and moving forward for so many young people who I still fondly remember as small children. Watching all the caps fly, I too got the lift. We can graduate in ourselves anytime we are ready. The commencement exercise is always there for all of us.