This past weekend was marked by 22 year olds graduating from colleges across the country. Because of the current circumstances however, they were not able to walk across the stage and receive their diploma. Still the weekend was filled with celebration. There were virtual graduations from many colleges both near and far. Dignitaries, business leaders, politicians and celebrities all left words congratulating the class of 2020 and praising them of their accomplishments. And yes the Class of 2020 should be proud of all that they have accomplished and all that they will accomplish in the future.
My daughter is about to turn 22. Instead of graduating she will be “aging out”. This weekend found me at one of those moments when sadness unexpectedly crept in and played a mind game on me. There have been other times along this journey, especially as my daughter got older, when these same feelings crept in. Middle school when everyone else seemed to instinctively understand social graces and how to make friends, she struggled to figure it all out. There were several times too when my daughter was in high school that left me feeling uneasy. Every time I was in that building and watched the other girls walking in the hallway I realized how different she was.
Now that she is turning 22, instead of graduating she will be “aging out.” She won’t be receiving a diploma, donning a cap and gown and receiving messages of praise. Perhaps it’s just me and the funk I’m in but the words “aging out” suddenly don’t seem appropriate. They imply that your time is up here so you must leave. The word graduating however implies that you worked hard, accomplished all that was set forth of you and are earning something to prove it.
The saying, “Different, not less” is a very familiar phrase in the disability world. Those words ring so true at the moment. She is 22, different, but not less than any other 22 year old. She may not have spent hours cramming for exams or writing papers but she spent hours learning skills that were just as hard to accomplish. I feel as proud of my 22 year old child and her accomplishments as every other parent of a child graduating this year. Due to COVID – 19 and the current situation she will actually be continuing with her current program after she turns 22. When the time comes and she does age out her graduation will be different than those graduating college but it won’t be any less meaningful.
So here’s to ALL of the 22 year olds that already have or will graduate this year. You may have taken different routes to get to where you are today but with perseverance and hard work you succeeded. Congratulations!