As Monty Python famously said, “And now for something different.” No harangues, no jeremiads, no lectures.
For me this is a time of simha, naches, and kvelling.
The past weekend I went to Washington, DC, for my daughter Helen’s graduation from American University. She graduated with honors from AU’s Kogod School of Business.
For the past four years, both my children have been in the DC area. My son Matthew has been there for going on 14 years. He went to George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Between his freshman and sophomore years, after working at a summer job in New Jersey, he said to me, “Dad, don’t take this the wrong way, I am not coming back to New Jersey.”
Matthew liked suburban DC and northern Virginia. From his sophomore year on, Matthew has been back north on occasion. He is a Virginian. It was the right move for him.
Matthew is now an IT manager at George Mason, doing project management and designing computerized classrooms with advanced audio-visual capabilities. Matthew is a remarkable man and I am proud of him. His story will come another time. This column is about Helen.
In Hebrew, Helen is named after my mother, and she has a lot of my mother in her. She is calm, level-headed, and diplomatic. She concerns herself with the well-being of others and will go out of her way to help friends in need. Such generosity is no mean accomplishment, considering her mother and I divorced when she was nine. This is a case where divorced parents were able to work together for the best interest of their child.
Helen is one of those rare birds who had a game plan when she started college and stuck with it. While Matthew and I changed majors numerous times in college, Helen stayed on course. She entered college wanting to go into museum management and curation and this goal was reflected throughout her four years at AU. Helen is graduating with a dual concentration in business management, and international business and management, along with a minor in art history.
When we took Helen down to AU as a freshman, it took a car and an SUV, each loaded with college essentials like linens, plastic storage containers, vacuum, TV, CD player, lamps, and the like. After two years in dorms, she and a friend moved into a tiny apartment, whose biggest feature was a below-street-level patio, which was great for parties and barbeques. She is returning to New Jersey with very little, mostly boxes of books.
Helen, while selective, is very friendly and loyal, and has developed a group of ecumenical friends at AU and in Tenleytown, the neighborhood adjacent to AU. After a round of farewell parties, she will be saying goodbye to many of these people. This is part of the maturing process.
Another part of that process, which affected me emotionally, was when Helen took a semester abroad in her sophomore year. While she had traveled abroad as part of family trips and organized teen travel, this was her first trip by herself, going to Florence to study art history.
I don’t know if her departure at JFK was more stressful on her or me, but neither of us showed it. However, we spent as much time as we could before her boarding call, talking over sodas at an airport restaurant. I could not leave her. I walked with her to the security line and watched her pass through and walk towards the gate without a backward glance back. I knew that she was nervous, maybe even a bit scared. But I was both sad and proud of her departure.
I visited Helen in Florence. We had a great time touring Tuscany, but again there was the emotional heaviness of having to say goodbye. Academically, Helen’s semester was a success. She even got to do some resume building by working with a New Jersey expat who ran an American theater in Florence.
One of the people to whom Helen will be saying goodbye is Matthew. As I said earlier, Matthew is a Virginian. It was comforting that Helen had her older brother in the immediate vicinity to act as a family safety net during her four-year sojourn in DC. Over her years in DC, Helen and Matthew were in constant contact and had dinner together on a regular basis. I hope this closeness continues for the rest of their lives.
Now, Helen is coming home, sort of. She was fortunate to get a job in New York City and is looking for an apartment. She is going to do graduate work in addition to working.
Last weekend, my baby girl, now an independent young woman, walked on commencement day in a blue cap and gown, with a gold honors tassel on her shoulders.
Yasher koach v’ mazal tov.
And mazal tov to all students graduating this month and to their parents.