Reflections: Graduation Day in DyslexiaLand

In 2015, my dyslexic son graduated from Santa Barbara High School. My feelings at the time–with an update.

By Cheri Rae

Graduation: That moment in life from one stage to another, the opportunity to live the live you’ve imaged.
Photo by Cole Keister/unsplash

As more than 500 students filed into the football stadium, my eyes were fixed on just one—my brave, determined and smart son who had worked so hard to fulfill all the requirement to earn his high school diploma. It was the culmination of a 13-year journey that began with a hug from his kindergarten teacher greeting him with, “Hello, sunshine!” to a firm handshake from a school board member who said, “Congratulations, young man.”

So much that was said and done in the time in between those memorable moments.

I felt such a sense of pride, mixed with relief and joy, watching my son walk across the stage as his name was called, knowing what a long, hard, and soul-wearying trip it had been through DyslexiaLand. But he earned his credits, completed every requirement and always did his best, no matter how difficult the task.

Along with his cap and gown, he wore the golden cords signifying his membership in the National Honor Society, and his achievements in the classroom and beyond. He beamed as he transferred the tassel from one side to the other, and shouted with joy when he threw the mortarboard into the air. Finally released from the public school classroom, he was free to chart his own chosen course into the future.

Although he had been accepted at a fine private college and awarded a generous scholarship, he chose to take a well-deserved gap year to put space between academics and real-life learning—and more importantly, give himself some time to process his options.

As his long-time advocate, I too, felt a great deal of relief with his high school graduation. No more making a case for a proper public education to educators; no more convoluted IEP goals to achieve; no more late-night worries about what might happen to my son if he couldn’t jump through every hoop tossed his way. I had spend so much time working to keep his spirit intact while trying to increase the understanding of dyslexia among his educators, administrators, decision-makers and politicians.

Such a long journey; what an education we all had received. A weight felt lifted from my shoulders, as it was time, finally, to celebrate.

“We did it, Mom!” he said as he hugged me after I found him on the field, crowded with fellow students and their families. All the struggles of this part of his life were over, with a great new journey awaiting him, to make all the difference in the world.

Update: In the years since his graduation, my son has, indeed, charted his own course. He’s traveled in Europe; spent time with a monk on Mt. Athos in Greece, mountain biked in Whistler, B.C.; backpacked the John Muir Trail; hiked on Kauai, and motorcycled in the California deserts. Following his gap year, he decided to turn down his scholarship and stay close to home instead. He completed two years of community college where two of his essays were selected for publication in the school’s literary magazine and he continued to play baseball. He dabbled in a number of jobs, including auto mechanic, assembler at a high-tech company, and currently, valet and bellman at a five-star resort, while he’s being mentored in business and marketing by a successful entrepreneur who has taken him on as an apprentice.

As always, he’s the hardest worker, I’ve ever seen. And he still makes time for friends, family and fun.

Years ago, I carved the following quote by Henry David Thoreau onto the back of a bench that’s on the front porch of our 100-year-old bungalow, the only home our son has ever lived: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” He got the message.

excerpted from DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Children with Dyslexia