Sam has officially graduated from high school, and I could not be prouder.
Or more relieved.
Don’t get me wrong, there was never a doubt in my mind that he’d strut across that stage with an honor cord around his neck, as he’s one of the brightest students I know.
But I also really know him. I know he loathes and ignores early morning alarm clocks. I know he prefers video games to AP history homework. I know he has taken advantage of relaxed late work policies teachers implemented due to COVID, and I know he has a severe case of senioritis.
So as Sam crossed the stage and grasped his diploma, I was right there with him, collapsing across the finish line. What a year it has been!
It first started to feel real when we scheduled a senior photo shoot with Shalem Photography, which was such a fun and memorable experience. Sam chose to have fall pictures taken along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, which is the backdrop to our own backyard. The only thing we’d do differently is pack some hair gel because the wind was whipping!
Senior year is a crazy busy time for high schoolers. Sam signed up for a full load of higher level courses, while at the same time preparing for SAT exams. He also filled out several college admissions applications and scholarship essays.
He quit his job at Carrs Safeway and took a seasonal position with Target, which was better pay but waaaaay more hours than we expected. The kid was Busy with a capital B.
Second semester was a whole different story.
The seasonal job with Target ended in January, and we encouraged him to wait until summer to get another job so he could focus on scholarship applications. He also had an open period every day after lunch, which we thought would be a great time to crank out homework assignments and college-related tasks.
Ummmm no. This is when senioritis kicked in big time.
As far as I can tell, his bonus time was spent playing ping-pong, daily dining at QDoba, and I honestly don’t want to know what else. Certainly not homework or scholarship applications, although he did devote evening and weekend time to those tasks.
A decision about college needed to be made by early May, and it weighed heavily. Soccer and prom were great distractions, and Sam found himself so happy with life here that he put off deciding where to go next as long as possible.
There’s plenty of talk about the excitement of college, but not enough honesty about how scary it can be. This is especially true for kids who plan to attend school out-of-state, which means moving thousands of miles from their homes, family, and friends. It’s also one of the first major life decisions teens gets to make for themselves, so the pressure and stress is understandable.
In the end Sam picked the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and once the decision was made his relief was palpable. He was all grins as he paid the enrollment deposit. He’s an Alaskan kid, but Nebraska has been a big part of his childhood since almost all of our family lives there. UNL also gave us one heck of a tour back in July, where Sam was impressed with the shiny new business college, suite-style dorms, and rec center. A hefty scholarship offer sweetened the pot and made this a solid choice.
Sam first announced his decision at West High’s honor cord ceremony, but we kept the news a secret from family for another week so he could tell grandparents in person when they arrived for his graduation ceremony. It was a pretty sweet moment, and of course he was decked out in Husker gear as he shared the news.
By the time graduation rolled around, we were all more than ready. The ceremony was held at the Alaska Airlines Center, and many of the speakers reflected upon all that this class has endured, from a magnitude 7.1 earthquake during 2nd hour of their freshman year to a global pandemic that spanned their sophomore, junior, and senior years. As a staff member, I got to be down on the floor and give Sam a huge congratulatory hug after he received his diploma.
After the ceremony, graduates and families reunited outside the arena. It was a celebratory atmosphere, but we had dinner reservations at Benihana and didn’t linger for long. We did find time to swing by West for some pictures before dinner.
It was a great night, but not quite time to exhale.
The ceremony was now behind us, but the celebrations were not. Sam didn’t want a graduation party, but somehow ended up being a guest of honor at two events.
The first was a small Friday night gathering at our home with family and close friends. It was a bit stressful because we had no idea how many people would attend, but everyone worked together to clean the house and prepare dinner and dessert. Having grandparents in town was a lifesaver, because they rolled up their sleeves and mopped and chopped and had half the work done by the time Clark and I got home from work. It turned into a relaxing evening, and after Sam escorted his last guest to the door he bounded up the steps and declared, “That was perfect! Exactly what I wanted!”
Side note: here is a link to the photo slideshow we looped that evening. It’s 20 minutes long, and spans many highlights from Sam’s birth – graduation. It’s an emotional landmine for Clark and I to watch!
The other celebration was a few weeks later, with a group of friends (mostly from his soccer team) at Hilltop Ski Chalet. That one was catered, so no cooking or cleaning involved this time. The weather was a dream and the kids had a great time playing yard games and visiting with coaches and families. Spikeball in the sunshine is always a hit!
In the midst of this there was still soccer. Senior night, daily practices, weekly games, and a state tournament. It was an odd state of limbo, to be graduated yet still part of the high school team for three more emotional weeks. The boys played their hearts out in unprecedented 70+ degree heat (which is hot in Alaska!), winning game after game until the heartbreaking overtime loss in the state championship. From the highs of winning a game in penalty kicks to the lows of losing their last game in the final seconds of overtime, it was a character building season. It wasn’t the finish they hoped for, but there is no shame in earning 2nd in state. As a bonus, they earned the D1 Academic Award for having the highest team GPA. It was a special season for a special group of boys, and I have no doubt the seniors will be back next summer to cheer on their former teammates at next year’s state tournament!
So now we have finally crossed the finish line. Now we exhale.
There will be many more finish lines in Sam’s future, but from here on out they will be his own. Going forward, he picks which races to enter and which to decline. For the ones he chooses, he will have to get himself out of bed to run towards his goals. He will need to plan his progress and dodge distractions. He will need to manage his time, his focus, his priorities. He will need to find a healthy balance.
We are a single phone call or plane ticket away if he needs us, and he has plenty of family nearby as well.
But I think he’s got this. The next time he crosses a finish line, I predict that our role will simply be to show up at the end… cheering the loudest.