And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

There were so many incredible moments in the last week, with the college graduation of my daughter, Olivia. Olivia is at the tail end of my parade of four children. She is my third child to graduate from college. She is my second child to go on to graduate school.

So you might think that watching Olivia has become ho-hum. I’ve seen it all before.

Trust me, nothing about Olivia, or any of my kids, is ho-hum!

We were told Olivia wouldn’t talk.

We were told she would never look at us with any recognition.

And her Early Childhood teacher, someone who worked with Olivia for three years, who was there to make sure she would be able to reach all that she was capable of reaching, didn’t believe Olivia would be capable of going to college.

We were told so much. But then we looked at Olivia, and Olivia looked back at us, and we all decided not to listen.

Olivia not only began to talk, but she gave a speech at the Light of Learning celebration at her college the night before graduation. And she brought people to their feet.

She not only went to college, but she remained steadily on the Dean’s List, even through the confusing time that was Covid. She was inducted into the Delta Epsilon Sigma national honor society, which only accepts students in the top 5% of their class. And she’s going on to grad school.

In her speech, Olivia told the audience that, when she was 9 years old, we brought her to the school’s Starving Artist show. Afterwards, we found the labyrinth on campus and walked it. Well, Olivia skipped and danced it. When she got to the middle, where the meditation bench was, she sat quietly, then suddenly flung her arms skyward. “I’m going to college here, Mama!” she shouted. “I’m going to college!”

She was right.

Olivia also told the audience at the Light of Learning ceremony that she thought she is where is now because of her neuro-divergent brain. It’s not a deterrent. It’s an asset.

She’s right.

It was a wet handkerchief weekend. Not only should I have had a handkerchief, multiple handkerchiefs, but I could have been one. By the end of the graduation ceremony, after watching her walk across that stage, get her diploma, accept her cheers with grace, and smile at the audience, you could have wrung me out and hung me up to dry.

But my mind kept returning, and returns still, to one moment, a moment I haven’t shared anywhere on social media. Because I wanted to hold it to my heart. And then I wanted to share it here, because I knew there would be no bigger moment in my week.

At the Light of Learning ceremony, after Olivia spoke, received her standing ovation with a dazed expression on her face (she sat down, leaned over, and asked, “Should I have bowed?”), there was the walk and presentation of lanterns. Each graduate was given a small lantern, lit by a battery-powered candle. When we were waiting for the event to start, I read that each graduate would be offering up who they are thankful for, and then they’d be passing their lantern on to someone else. Olivia hadn’t mentioned this at all, and it put me into a panic. Did Olivia know? Did she know what she was going to say and do? Spontaneous things can be hard for her.

But before she left to line up with her lantern, Olivia said to me, “It’s okay, Mama. I knew about it. And I’m going to give my lantern to you.”

Whew. I was so relieved that she wasn’t going to be hit with a surprise, I didn’t really stop to think about this. I just sat back to watch.

Olivia was the second graduate to approach the podium, her second time at the podium that night. Looking straight at the audience, she said she’d made it clear in her speech who she was grateful for (everyone at Mount Mary University for the place of belonging they gave to her). And then she said, “I’m going to give my lantern to my mom. She’s been my number one fan for my entire life and she’s supported me in everything I do.”

Each word just wrapped around my heart and squeezed. As a parent, we don’t often hear gratitude, and we don’t really expect to. We’re parents – we’re supposed to love our children unconditionally, we’re supposed to raise them up time and time again, we’re supposed to be there when we’re needed, and be close by the rest of the time, and…well, we love our children.

The little lantern in Olivia’s hands glowed with a whole new meaning now. It glowed beyond its batteried power.

I had to walk to Olivia, meeting her in front of the podium, so she could give me the lantern. And all I could do was throw my arms around her and hug her with all the strength of all the hugs I’ve ever given her for 22 years.

The little lantern sits on my desk now, right in front of my computer. It sits next to a stone meditating elephant she gave me for Christmas, because “I just thought you would like it, Mom.” She got it at a Mount Mary craft fair.

Every time I look at it, I become a wet handkerchief all over again.

I was told this child would never know who I am.

But she does.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia giving her speech at the Light of Learning celebration the evening before graduation.
She gives me my lantern, and I hug the stuffing out of her.
My lantern.
Olivia graduating. She’s the one standing on stage.
Olivia dancing at 9 years old in a sun storm on the labyrinth at Mount Mary University. “I’m going to college here, Mama! I’m going to college!”
Olivia on the Mount Mary Labyrinth, moving-in day for freshman year.
Olivia on graduation day!

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