High school graduation a landmark for a grandfather too


This graduation season, there was one high school graduation for which I had waited almost 18 years: that of my granddaughter Hannah Engler.

Graduations are landmarks in our lives and in the lives of our children and our children’s children. Celebrating graduation from high school and from college was not part of the culture when I was a student in the dusty northwestern corner of Pakistan. Graduation from medical school did merit a ceremony, but families usually were not invited to the event.

So it was with eager anticipation that I attended Hannah’s graduation from St. Ursula Academy last week. It was an impressive ceremony. The Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle provided an elegant backdrop, where 114 young ladies crossed an important threshold in their lives.

I often have thought of commencement speeches as redundant and perfunctory. They tend to be too long, too idealistic, and too rarefied for graduates to pay due attention. Only they know how difficult it is to listen to a speech and not be able to send text messages.

Having been a commencement speaker a few times, I know the transitory effect and extremely short half-life of such efforts. But the speaker at this ceremony was someone who knew how to hold the attention of the graduates and the audience.

Dr. Patricia Metting, a 1971 alumna of St. Ursula Academy, is a retired professor and vice chancellor at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. We listened to her simple message with rapt attention.

She told the graduates that with courage, they could change the prevailing culture by becoming role models for others. She encapsulated her message in a simple five-letter phrase: I CARE. The letters stand for integrity, compassion, altruism, respect, and excellence. It was a marvelous graduation gift, if the graduates could heed the deeper meaning of those words.

Because Hannah is my first grandchild, I remember much about her birth and her life. I recall a particularly cold December day in 1995 when I was, along with three college friends, snowbound in a small Himalayan town in northern Pakistan. We trudged through snowdrifts to reach the small one-room telegraph and telephone office to receive a phone call from America.

Over a tenuous and fragile telephone connection, made almost inaudible because of howling wind, I heard my wife, Dottie, announce that I had now entered grandparenthood. That night, in front of a crackling fire, we celebrated. We had come to that picturesque town to catch up on the happenings in our lives, and this was the latest in mine.

Hannah’s metamorphosis from an infant into a young lady has been interesting. A toddler turned into a ponytailed little girl, who turned into an awkward teenager and then into a confident young woman.

Along the way, there were volleyball games almost every weekend, with quite a few away games. We parents and grandparents dutifully traveled to support our girls. There were plenty of smiles and joy, and occasionally heart-wrenching tears of defeat.

We bring up our children and grandchildren in traditions that are precious and time-tested. Occasionally there are howls of rebellion, but somehow it all evens out toward the end. We give our children wings to fly and a moral compass to navigate the waters of life.

Rubicons are meant to be crossed. The transition from high school to college is one such crossing. While our children take flight, we parents and grandparents also take a leap of faith, to let them test their wings and explore the world in a way that was not possible when we were that age.

Good luck to you, Hannah, and to your 113 friends.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at:aghaji@bex.net