This year most high schools will be resuming their normal graduation ceremonies.  Due to the success of the Coronavirus vaccines, the CDC has acknowledged that it would be safe to hold graduation ceremonies again.  Last year some high schools had traditional ceremonies and this year most high schools will be having graduation ceremonies. This is different from the past  few years when graduation ceremonies were canceled due to the Coronavirus.  While schools are having graduation ceremonies, they will most likely be different for the graduates.  It will be different because for most of the graduates their high school experiences have been different from the “traditional” high school experience.  Many of these students had to attend high school part-time remotely and had typical high school events such as sports and the prom altered or canceled due to the Coronavirus. 

As I stated above for many high school graduates, this year graduation ceremonies will be somewhat differently emotionally.  However, High School graduation still marks a big accomplishment for teenagers. They have finished their basic education and they are ready to move on to begin their life plans as a young adult.  For many students this means going to a four year college and earning a Bachelors degree.  In addition, many graduates will be celebrating scholarships they received and awards they received for their academic or other accomplishments in high school.  They also have friends and family there to join them in celebrating their accomplishments.  Of course this is a happy day and it deserves to be celebrated.

While this is the stereotype we think about regarding graduation, it’s not the reality for every students.  Some students have worked very hard and maintained very good grades, but they did not get accepted into the University of their choice or a college they can afford and maybe they did not receive any awards or scholarships.  Many seniors may not be going to a four year university, they will need to attend the local two year junior college and try to transfer into a four year university.  While there is nothing wrong attending a junior college, many students feel like they failed having to start at a junior college.  Other students who have learning disabilities are just barely graduating and had to wait to the last minute to see if the past all of their classes.  Some did not pass and they have to go to summer school so they may be allowed to participate in the ceremony but they are not finished yet.  These students do not get to live the stereotype and often feel embarrassed and ashamed when they compare themselves to the other students in their graduating class.

I had also mentioned celebrating with family and friends.  For some students this can be very difficult.  If their parents had a hostile divorce, the divorce may be being dragged into the graduation.  Instead of a celebration, the parents may be making the graduation a civil war.  The graduate may be forced to take sides in regards to who they can invite to the ceremony.  Do they invite mom’s side or dad’s side?  This can change a happy event into a very stressful event the graduate does not want to be involved in.  For some graduates a mother or father has passed away and graduation day is another reminder that this very special person is no longer physically present.  Therefore, graduation may be a stressful or sad day.

Another aspect that is overlooked is graduation is an ending.  It marks the end of a teenager’s high school experience.  Many teens have been very involved with their school and have developed close relationships with teachers and school staff and they have developed very close friendships with their classmates.  Graduation marks an end to their high school life.  They need to say goodbye to these people and move on to a school they do not know and may not know anyone else who is attending their college.  I remember one high school secretary’s comment when she looked at the senior class, “I have never seen so many kids look so happy and sad at the same time”.

In addition to saying goodbye to their high school family, graduates need to say goodbye to their families.  If they are going away to school, they will no longer living with their parents or siblings.  While they may complain about their families, they will miss them too.  Mom and Dad will miss their graduated too.  So while traditionally we tend to only focus on the positive, which is not uncommon for our society, we also need to acknowledge that graduation marks an ending too.  An ending to their high school family, friends  they have created and to their high school activities along with a change in the graduates life.  They no longer are a high school kid.  They are a college student and a young adult and need to start their lives all over.  This will have happy moments and sad one too. It’s important to acknowledge both.

While high school students will be starting their lives over, I have included a small segment of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. that is important for high school graduates to hear.  It empathizes that you need to define yourself, don’t let others try to decide who are going to be in life  It’s important that we try to encourage this idea in the high school graduates as they leave high school and start to create their lives as an adult in the world.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children and adolescents.  He has appeared on television and radio shows and is considered an expert in adolescent psychology.  For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website at, or his Facebook page or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.