I sat in the audience in my striped tie the colors of the university from which my daughter was about to graduate. The tie had been a gift from her, and I wore it as a proud display of our connection to each other. After three days of steady rain, our prayers had been answered. The weather had broken and we were about to witness the procession of 1300 seniors outside on one of the most beautiful college campuses in America. We sat amid a crowd of some 10,000 proud family and friends who surrounded a sea of maroon caps and gowns seated before us.
I sat only a few hundred yards from the dorm room where I had left my daughter as a freshman. Just four years ago, she had taken the biggest step of her life to that point. In the brick buildings surrounding us she had taken classes from History to Statistics and Communications to Painting. She had expanded her knowledge of the world and learned how to learn. At this world-class school she had gotten a wonderful education. On the stage was a pile of leather bound diplomas and one had her name embossed upon it. Shortly, the university would recognize that she had completed her learning there and could take the next big step.
As a Be There Dad, I wondered about the question I had asked other dads many times before. Was her “backpack” full of the things she needed to move on emotionally, socially and spiritually, too? During those four years, I had continued to try to stuff her backpack whenever I had the chance. This time I had to do it through emails, brief phone calls, and dinner conversations during school breaks. To my delight, we had continued to talk about the practicalities of life like taking care of the car. Together we had become good at moving furniture from apartment to apartment. I tried to shared the wisdom of the years when editing resumes and talking about job interviews. I shared what I could whenever she would listen. But, I wondered. Did she have every thing she needs?
To the surprise of most of the audience, the well-known speaker did not deliver a message full of platitudes and praise for the graduates. Rather, as my daughter would say later, he gave them one more lesson in life. He spoke bluntly about the recent and well-publicized battle over discrimination in our state. He talked about the need for inclusion and against extremism. As a native North Carolinian, he called for the state to return to the spirit of its glory days when it put aside color, race and religion and welcomed the content of character. With passion, he urged the graduates to be involved and lead us back together. He pointed to the Baccalaureate service when several students had read the same message from passages of different cultures and religions – “love one another”
All this reminded me of our Be There Dad story, Nobody Wins Until We All Do. Perhaps this was fitting for me as much as for my daughter. One more item to fit in that backpack. This time, courtesy of David Gergen. As many times as we had heard it before, the lesson was worth repeating one more time. On this day, in this world, maybe the most important lesson was just that, nobody wins until we all do.
After all the classes, the internships, and traveling abroad. After all the emails, the phone calls and the chats while moving mattresses, there is one lesson I should most want her to take into the world beyond the bubble of that college campus. She can write an essay, create a presentation, cook a meal and do her laundry. She has acquired the necessary life skills, knowledge and experience to move on. Soon she will acquire more of each. But as the sun peaked through the clouds and shone down upon us, the speaker, reminded me of that most important lesson.
We gathered afterwards and smiled for pictures. I felt calm and confident as this story came to a close. I already knew the answer to my question. Ask her pre-school teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors, professors, brother and friends; and they will tell you that love for others rests in my daughter’s heart. She knows that nobody wins until we all do. She knows the most important lesson of all and she lives it every day. Thanks to many people her backpack is full. She is ready to move on.