Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 35: Graduation

As an adjunct professor, I've taught about 8 years worth of graduating students. Over the years, I've observed that the student reaction to impending graduation has varied, mostly depending on the state of the economy and the overall character of the class. Some years are simply more optimistic, or more driven than others. But, no matter the character or the climate, the graduation jitters are a universal truth.

Each semester, beyond the class description, and beyond what the university asks of me, the students ask for something more. My job (especially in the spring) really isn't just about design instruction and portfolio coaching, it's a little bit of life-coaching as well. One-on-one meetings with students start out about class issues, but quickly reveal that they are about something else. Familiar themes emerge: A feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of work. Anxiety over interviews, job prospects, having choices, and making the right decisions. Fear of rejection. Confusion about what they should do next, whether or not they have a job waiting beside their diploma.

Honestly, I love this part of my work. By talking to the students and giving simple, practical advice, I can see instant results. I may not have solved all their problems, but they know they aren't in it alone, we've all been there, and they will be okay. I can see their shoulders relax a little, hear their breathing get easier, and sometimes even dry some tears.

While my advice always depends on the student, there are common threads that apply to everyone: When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath, a time out. Make a list. Prioritize and put things into perspective. To make the right decision, think about what you ultimately want from your career five years from now, and make the choices that support that path. When you need help, ask for it, and show gratitude. Remember everyone likes to feel appreciated. If you do that, they will be willing to help you out again in the future. If you are at a loss, or haven't found a position yet, don't give up. Keep working, keep going in the right direction by studying, practicing and even volunteering on your own, and eventually you will find a reward for all your effort. Look back and reflect on how far you've come, how much you have accomplished and you will see that I am right.

Today, Simon graduated from the CIMT program. At times, throughout the month, we felt overwhelmed by the intensity of the program -- the casting was scary, the frustration tough, and the schedule challenging. We worried that we wouldn't be up to the task when it came to homework. We had anxiety over testing and evaluations and outcomes. We didn't know if we had the right tools, or the right skills. We constantly questioned whether we made the right decisions, and we wonder where we should go and what we should do next.

So, I'm taking my own advice.

Throughout the program, when it was tough, we took deep breaths, and time outs, and made priorities to make it work. We took turns, we made lists, we put things in perspective.

Now, as we are presented with choices about where to go next, about what therapy and programs to pursue, about how to alter Simon's IEP, about what questions to ask which doctors, I will think about where I want Simon to be six months from now. Thanks to this program, we've seen some of what he is capable of when we do have the right program in place, and the right guidance and support.

When we needed help, it came to us in many forms and I am so grateful. My parents helped with moral support and financial help. My mother and my sister cheered us on every single day. Truly unexpected is that through the media of this blog, I've felt closer relationships, especially with my dad. Like most father-daughter relationships, we don't talk as much as I wish we could, and knowing that he is faithfully reading every day has been touching and comforting. Through the blog I've also had outreaches of support, prayers, happy thoughts, and helpful feedback from family, close friends, acquaintances, and people I don't even know. I'm grateful to each and every one of you.

I'm grateful to Simon's teachers and school therapists for their patience and support and willingness to adapt to new ideas from an external source. And, of course, I'm also grateful to the amazing staff we worked with at KKI. We have learned so much, and I feel that the door has opened to many more opportunities for Simon to grow, learn new skills, and become closer to fulfilling his expanding potential. I felt a kindred spirit in the OT there, and I am thrilled that she will be helping us a while longer and continuing to point us in the right direction.

We will continue, of course, to research and study, to practice our skills and look for opportunities to help Simon and other families like our own. I find myself wondering if all that I've written here over the past 36 days is really the beginning of a book, a way to find other Laura's and Brian's and Simon's and share our knowledge and laughter and tears. Maybe.

Most of all, as I look back, I see how much Simon has accomplished. I am so proud of our little boy. Of his patience, his determination, his willingness to move forward and work within such heavy constraints. His ability to play and be happy and just be a kid day after day within such difficult and sometimes uncomfortable constraints. The mind-blowing and incredibly inspiring progress he has made. I cannot wait to see where he will go next, and I know I am privileged to be a part of it.

Today, at our last meeting of the CIMT program, we reviewed notes, and thanked and hugged our therapist, who will be in touch soon. In just a few weeks, we should be back to continue our work on self-care, pre-writing and other targeted tasks. As we left the building, they didn't hand Simon a diploma, and I didn't buy him the customary balloons or roses. 

Instead, we went and got a turkey sandwich for our little miracle.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Laura,
    And Im so proud of YOU. Your patience, your ability to look at the future with hope, your
    inner joy. And at the same time, planning a beautiful shower for Jenny,keeping the kids happy on the many snow days. Yes, you are amazing.
    I'm so proud you are my daughter. Love Mom