Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Endings and Beginnings

 Endings and Beginnings 

By Stephanie Kepke Kaplan

Tears threatened to spill over my lashes as I sat in the darkened John Cranford Playhouse watching my son play his final concert at Hofstra—Music Fest, Hofstra Concert’s biggest event of the year. His sticks flew over the drums, while in front of him talented hip-hop/soul artist, Tino the Incredible, rhymed and sang his way through a forty-five-minute set. The lilting voices of three lovely backup singers along with the incredibly talented guitarist, bassist and keyboardist rounded out the performance. I whooped and hollered and clapped until my hands turned red. My cheeks hurting from smiling so much by the end of the set. So…why the threat of tears?

College graduation brings a lot of exciting new beginnings, but also profound endings, not just for the students, but for parents and families, as well. I have watched my kids perform on stages in schools from elementary through college for sixteen years, since my oldest was in fourth grade, and it suddenly hit me that this was the last time. Yes, I’ll get to see my son perform on stage again—his “outside of school” band has a gig in June, and that will no doubt be exciting. But there’s something special that comes from sitting in a campus theater, from the moment the house lights dim and the stage lights brighten to the cheering throng of students—a bigger audience than a bar offers—to watching your student slip off the stage, triumphant, past velvet curtains while a professional crew rushes on to get ready for the next famous act. I sat in the same theater and watched my son play with the Hofstra Symphonic Band last spring and oh my—I definitely shed some happy tears then. It was a proud mom moment for sure.

I’ve had lots of those proud mom moments while my son has studied at Hofstra. I’ve witnessed him bounce back from a .42 GPA in the fall of his sophomore year in 2020 to a 3.47 in the fall of 2021 when he was technically a second-semester sophomore after an academic leave in the spring. I beamed with pride while he read me his literature professor’s glowing comments on an essay he wrote and celebrated with him when he was accepted into the music business percussion performance track. He’s on the “five-year plan” or rather four-and-a-half-year plan, so there has been lots to celebrate, along with rocky moments, in this journey. It’s so hard to believe that it’s coming to an end.

It’s hard for my son, as well. He knows that everything will change and the safe embrace of the Hofstra community will not be a daily experience for him, BUT…he will still have that safety

net. He will always be a part of Hofstra as an alumnus. He will have the career resources and the alumni network at his disposal. And who knows, the band members he performed with the week before Music Fest at Hofstra’s bi-weekly Coffee House won’t be graduating until next year, so perhaps they’ll invite him back for a Coffee House performance here and there.

I thumbed through an old journal not too long ago and landed on an entry from the night before my college graduation. I had written, “Everything is going to change. I’ll never be in this moment again with these people, footsteps, and laughter outside the open window, my lace curtains fluttering in the breeze.” I was right, everything did change, but thirty-four years later I know that lots of those changes were good. I know my son will find that too. He’s just starting on his journey. But, for the parent of a graduating senior, it feels like more of a concrete ending to my journey with him as a student (I’m grateful I have a sophomore at Hofstra, as well, so my Hofstra journey isn’t over yet). This isn’t my first child graduating college, so I know once college is over, and your child is out in the world “adulting,” parenthood takes on a different tone. I support my oldest son in any endeavor and love to catch up with him whenever I can and hear about the exciting things he’s doing in the world living in Manhattan, but he doesn’t really need me much anymore. While that’s the goal of every parent, it does take some getting used to—graduation is the first step in truly letting go of our now adults. It’s important and perhaps the most essential ingredient in raising productive, thriving adults…we need to step out of the way and celebrate all the victories but maybe from a bit of a distance, and not a seat just a few rows away from a new life chapter unfolding. And that may spark just a few tears…but they’ll be tears of joy with just a tiny sprinkle of bittersweet.