My little sister graduated from college this week. We went down to celebrate graduation with her. We filed into the school’s basketball arena on Thursday. We sat and watch the processional. An orchestra played. A Dean spoke. Hands clapped, and parents ‘Woo-Hoo!’-ed, and mostly, we just sat, unbelievably proud of my little sister.
Now, she didn’t think much of her graduation. We’re Jewish kids from the suburbs who get to go on week-long ski trips — we’re not exactly the kind of college graduates who’ve had to overcome long odds. I said it when I graduated, and my sister said the same thing after hers.
But I remember a conversation we had three years ago. My sister called me, in tears. She was having a tough semester. She’d felt resistance — from her classes, from her peers. She felt isolated and lost, and she called asking for help.
I remember feeling a tremendous responsibility. I’d been called upon for brotherly support, and I remember reaching back to a place I didn’t know I could go to give her the only advice I think I’ve ever really believed:
Go out and find the things you love and the people you love, and be with them as much as you can.
Fast forward to the close of the graduation ceremony on Thursday. I was holding the camera, and my sister started dragging me through the crowd. She wanted a photo with this friend, and that friend, and this family. Hugs and kisses. Some English, and some Spanish, and even a bit of Swahili. Enough moments to put a Kodak executive’s family through college.
My mother looked at me — my mother, the lady who knows everyone, the lady who can, has and will start conversations with complete strangers in the bathroom — and said, “Your sister knows everyone.”
I was about as proud as a brother could be. We started hearing stories about how my sister had met all these people. Turns out my sister had thrown herself into everything — clubs and sports and classes, and she’d made some incredible friends.
She’d figured out college.
Because there’s a little secret about undergraduate life. They don’t tell you this when you’re reaching for the Ivies, or when you’re cramming for SATs, or when you’re being schooled in the differences between early action and early decision.
College isn’t about the classes. If you’re lucky, for four years, it’s a place to try. College is four years to try things that you won’t have time to try once you’re old, four years to experiment, four years to grow. Four years to find the stuff you love and the people you love.
You’re right, El. We don’t have the Hollywood story. You’re right: we expected you to graduate from college.
But you found something else at college, El. And for finding it, we couldn’t be prouder.