College Graduation Ceremony

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Should I insist that he walk?

May 2016

My son is graduating college in June. It's been a long slog to get to this point. He dropped out of high school 12 years ago, worked a bunch of low-paid jobs, moved out and moved back in multiple times, started and stopped community college multiple times. Finally he got serious, was able to transfer to a UC two years ago and has maintained a 4.0 throughout his time there. He financed most of it himself with grants and loans although we helped out by paying his rent the past 4 years and covering other expenses so that he didn't have to work while in college. We're very proud and excited.

To me, the graduation ceremony is a big deal, a real milestone for a guy that never graduated high school, and a symbol of his hard work and accomplishment. I want him to walk. I want the photo of Mom and the graduate in cap and gown, but I also think the ceremony is a one-time life event that he'll appreciate when he's older. The whole family is excited and planning to go, including an aunt from out of town. He, on the other hand, is very scornful of the ceremony, calls it a meaningless ritual, considers it a waste of time. He was willing to do it only because I asked him to, but then he realized he will have to miss a camping trip that same weekend that a group of his friends plan every year. So now he's very resentful I'm "making" him go to the graduation, and won't even discuss logistics.

We've always gotten along great, but now he'll barely talk to me. I really think he's being immature - there will always be camping trips, but the graduation is a one-time thing. I think he's a little afraid of what comes next after graduation too. He doesn't want to talk about that either. But maybe I should let him make this call without laying a guilt trip on him. After all he's not a kid anymore, and it is damaging the good relationship we had. What do you think? a mom

He's an adult. Leave him alone & let him make his own decisions. Graduation ceremonies are boring & as an adult, he can decide if it is meaningful to him. If your whole family wants to celebrate his graduation, throw him a party another weekend. Bring a cap & gown and have him pose for pictures. You pay for the party if it is important to you. Graduate

If it's damaging your relationship, let it go. It may not be that important to him. I graduated from both high school and college, but have yet to walk the stage. For various reasons I skipped both ceremonies, and I don't regret it at all. The actual accomplishment is what matters. Let him be quietly proud of himself, in his own way. not into big impersonal ceremonies

Can you find another way (other than walking at the official ceremony) to show your pride and respect for what your son's managed to pull off? A celebratory experience the two of you both really want to share, on a weekend that works for both of you? (And you can take lots of photos and edit in as many mortarboards and gowns as your heart desires, seriously; it might be fun!) Your son's done something meaningful, so I get why (even absent the competing pull of the trip with friends) commemorating that real achievement with a ceremony that feels fake to him might be a low priority; if he were motivated by doing things 'the normal way' he probably wouldn't have had the grit to get back into education after his previous struggles, but here you are, proud and happy! Following the script didn't get you/him to this place so why get hung up on following it now? Congratulations! Cory

I think you're sending mixed messages. If you're proud that your son graduated, well, then let him make this adult decision. He doesn't want to be part of this ceremony, he has earned that prerogative.

IMO you're making this about yourself and your needs, but this is his thing. His. Just like his wedding would be his wedding, his childrearing would be his choices, even if you help as a grandparent.

The way you're describing your interactions around this sounds like a parent talking to a teen. I can imagine that if I were significantly older than my cohort, I might feel awkward acting like a 21 year old, and maybe ashamed it took me so long. Who cares what feelings are going into it? Let the guy have his feelings and respect them. Back off.

I know you feel like you put a ton into this, but -- just leave it. Be proud in a different way that doesn't call so much attention to him. It embarrasses him and that's really the bottom line. He's not a trained monkey putting on a show for your extended family, he's a young man who reached a milestone, and regardless of how much work you put into it, it's still his milestone. His feelings come first.

I think you already identified the best solution (which I noticed quickly and easily in your post): let your son decide how to celebrate this day. Like you, I would want to celebrate at the real-life graduation and have an opportunity to express all of my excitement about this milestone. But the truth is that this graduation day is about your son, his life journey and his happiness. In this case, I would say that unconditional love would call for your son to feel loved and accepted in his preference to go camping with close friends, a healthy and meaningful way to spend time that would nourish him.

As parents, we often try to talk our kids into doing things because they would make US happy, not them happy. Of course, in life it's often important to do things to make other people happy--and learning that skill and having that capacity is key in developing happy, functioning relationships. This is why, when they're young, we are within our rights as parents to say, ''I know it's disappointing that you're going to miss your friends party. I get that. But this is an important family event, and you're coming with us to Grandma's house.'' End of discussion.

But in the DNA of your posting, you've already laid out your son's ambivalence about the graduation and that fact that he shuns this type of ceremony. So, if you're really considering HIS happiness, not mostly yours or other relatives', you will set aside your disappointment and actually give him your blessing.

If you can find it in your heart to do so authentically, you could also apologize for putting your own desires (in this case) above his. You could admit that it should have been a signal to you that you were pushing him to do something he really didn't want to do, and that you will be on the alert for this dynamic in the future. If you can do any of this or all of this and really mean it, even if you have to say, ''This is a new stance for me that I'm struggling with and is still hard to embrace, and/but what I really want for you on this occasion is for YOU to be happy…'' THAT will go a long way toward repairing your relationship with your son.

Finally, after giving him your blessing, would it be possible to suggest creating a party at an alternate time and place where he could wear the cap and gown and your family could express how proud they are? It's a different celebration for sure, but if his heart is there, it will be so much fuller. Again, I would go gently with this--and watch to see if he's really open to that idea.

This solution calls on you to give up an idea that was really important to you, seeing your son graduate formally. That must be hard to do, and I really hope that someway, somehow, you can find a way to celebrate that fulfills you, too.

BTW, I only say all this after having learned (and still learning) the hard way. I admire you for writing into BPN and asking others' opinions. To me, this shows that you're a loving parent who really wants to do right by your son: it's shows a willingness to listen and grow. I think you should be proud of yourself that you stuck by your son and that he accomplished this milestone.

All the best to you…Sarah

You are justified in being very proud of your son’s hard work in graduating from college after a long bumpy road. And the best way to honor his accomplishment would be to respect his wishes about how to recognize it. A graduation ceremony is only as meaningful as you regard it, and for someone not invested in the ritual it can indeed feel like a tedious waste of time. Given his feelings, I doubt that your son will look back on “the walk” with any fondness, particularly if he is doing it only to please you, at the expense of a tradition that is meaningful to him. I don’t think your son’s attitude is a sign of immaturity, but rather a realistic assessment of his priorities in life.

My suggestion: at a time that works for him, have a party to celebrate your son’s graduation. Include the aunt from out of town (friends too if you like). Display his diploma prominently. If you really want the ritual, go to the graduation yourself and listen to the speeches; you can still bask in the accomplishments they celebrate even if your son is not there feeling bored and resentful (you can even take a video to show at the party). And you don’t need to go to the graduation to take photos with him in cap and gown. I’m pretty sure he’ll look back on those photos more fondly if they represent your honoring his choices rather than forcing him to comply with yours.

This is just my personal take on walking the grad ceremony, and the experience I had getting married in California although my parents were adamant that I get married where I grew up (back east). If there was no camping trip I'd probably say go make him walk. But since there is a tangible loss to him and it has taken SO long, why not compromise and ask if you can throw him a great party. My parents threw me a wedding party after I was married, they got to invite all their friends etc. I felt like I was giving them something and they got to give me something. So consider a big party. My 2 cents. compromiser

It seems to me that your assessment of the situation is on target. Your son may well want to avoid the new terrors he faces now that he's ''successful'' in the eyes of his family. So avoiding the family's immediate expectations about what he'll do next is overwhelming. He may really need the weekend away. The way I see it, the graduation ceremony belongs inherently to the student, in spite of the show of pride and love the family wishes to show. The graduate should choose the mode of celebration in the moment.

Perhaps a compromise -- he and the family skip the graduation ceremony itself, he celebrate it in the way he wishes by camping with his friends, and then cooperatively plan a special weekend just for everybody to celebrate and honor your son. Everyone gets al least approximately what they want. (We've done this with birthdays and other celebrations an awful lot over the years -- it works for my family.)

Good luck. And congratulations to you as well as your son! ~ Laurel

Tough one. As a mom, I have sympathy for you, and as someone who hates ceremonies, I have sympathy for him. I guess where I come down is that if he is resentful and sullen it will ruin the whole thing and YOU will regret the day (as opposed to him regretting having missed it). Could you compromise? Rent a cap and gown for him, and have your own family ceremony. Have the aunt come, have a big fancy dinner (buy a new outfit for yourself!) and get that photo opp with him in cap and gown with proud mom next to him. He will be happy and not sullen, you will have a fun time and a wonderful memory. And you won't have to sit around in the broiling sun or freezing wind listening to hundreds of over people have their names called. To me this sounds like a win-win. Diploma-tic

Oh, dear. Assuming your posting is more or less accurate, I think your son is being a brat and at age 27 or so, an immature brat, one who can't or won't realize the important symbolism of rituals such as graduation. And, to put it bluntly, he owes you for the love and support and financial aid you've given him over the years (above and beyond your parental duty, in my opinion).

While you can't make your son go to his graduation, you can again--gently, calmly--request it as a favor to you, with no mention of what he owes you, how long it took him, etc. (And perhaps his friends could postpone the camping trip as a favor to him.) Then back off and don't bring up the subject again; let the game come to you.

I am 64 and for years I've regretted not going to my graduation from UCLA. (I went off to Europe with my boyfriend instead.) It would have meant a lot to my mother. I apologized to her later for my thoughtlessness, and she graciously accepted my apology, but I think she still would have really liked having that photo of her daughter in cap and gown.

Anyway, I feel for you, and I feel somewhat for your son as well; he's going to have a hard time staying in any close relationship if he's so unwilling to bend for one day to those who love him. Regrets

You're right, he is being immature. Why are kids so selfish these days? The ceremony may not mean anything to him, but why not do it for Mom? He would not have gotten to where he is now without your help, paying his rent and other expenses. Come on! It is possible that he may feel conscious of his age, he may be ''older'' compared to most graduates. But so what, he should be proud of his accomplishment and let you be proud to.

Tell him to get over himself and show up for the ceremony. What parent's sacrifice for their kid's happiness does not compare to him ''suffering'' for a couple of hours. He's not doing you any favors. Mom

Stick to your guns and make him do it. Back in the day I didn't see the point of walking through graduation -- I had started a job out of state and would have to fly back for the ceremony and told my mom I wasn't doing it. She was heartbroken and asked me to please do it for her. I did, and I was really glad I did. It's hard to appreciate the meaning of the ceremony before you do it, but it's worth it. And especially under the circumstances of his graduation there is so much for the family and your son to celebrate! Carrie

What a wonderful accomplishment for your son! He is an adult- 30 years old- and should be able to decide for himself if he wants to participate in graduation without any guilt for his choice. Trying to control his choice at this point seems counterproductive and as you've said, even damaging to your relationship with him. Let it go. Christa

Sounds like your son is at least in his mid to late 20's? If so he should make his own decision. The walk is your fantasy, not his, and he might be embarrassed by his age, or that it took him so long, or whatever. Maybe you can take him to a group dinner another time and have a toast, just don't go overboard. He is way too old to be dictating to him what he should and shouldn't do, imho. imho

I don't know...I didn't walk for graduations from high school (Berkeley High) or college (UC). I didn't have a wedding either, or birthday parties past age 13. Some people just aren't ceremony types of people, maybe that's him too and he's an adult so respect that. I'd rather it not be about me

My vote is that yes, you do insist.

The elegant solution is to get every other relative to pile on and be the ones who insist that he do his ''family duty'' because it is so important to his Mom (and whomever else).

Our daughter did not want to attend her brother's graduation, since she had a more attractive offer for that weekend, but I did insist, and she has forgotten her resentment over time.

Whether your son will recall the weekend with resentment later in the future may depend on how youi frame this - try to do it with a smile, but be very clear about your feelings. He needs to know the boundaries, and that this is a big deal to you.

If your son's friends can't reschedule their camping trip to accommodate his college graduation, they are a chickens**t lot indeed. Amelia Sue

I understand your feelings, and I think I would feel the same way, AND you deserve that glorious day to celebrate and receive the gratitude that YOU have earned, having seen him through so much. It's kind of like a wedding-you do it to get the dearest people in your life together, even though it can be relentless, exhausting, and really hard. All that said...if he doesn't want it, perhaps feels embarrassed by it (whatever) it's not going to be a joyous day for him or for you. So, I wonder if you could let go of the pomp and circumstance and ask him how your family could celebrate together in a way that makes him feel good AND makes you feel good, and gives that aunt a reason to come to town. Maybe you should all go camping together! Instead of a guilt trip, ask for his help, tell him your needs with vulnerability instead of judgment. You probably already did that, but if you didn't, apologize and try to start over. Your connection with him is way more important than you getting to celebrate graduation, right? Not to say you don't deserve to get your needs met-but it sounds like a compromise will be the only thing that doesn't put you at odds with each other for a long time. Good Luck Dear Mama

RE: should I let him make this call without laying a guilt trip on him. YES, after all he's not a kid anymore. This is about YOUR desire, not his. He should decide what's right for him. This is a sign of maturity, not immaturity. You're the one who's treating like a child. No wonder he does want to talk with you. This is HIS graduation, not yours. Get off the guilt trip train. anon mom

He dropped out of high school 12 years ago so he's what, 28? I think it is long past the time you should be insisting on him doing things like this. I went through 3 graduation ceremonies (high school, undergrad, grad school) and found them all meaningless so I'm with you son on this one. *You* might find them meaningful but it sounds like *he* does not.

If you want any chance of him walking, what I would do is go to him and say that you know he is old enough to make his own decisions and that you would like it if he would walk because it would mean a lot to you, but you understand that doing so would mean giving up something that means a lot to him. Ask him if he would be willing to consider doing it for you and, if not, ask him if he would be willing to having a graduation party at your house (or a restaurant or a park or...) the weekend after he returns from camping. If he is willing to have a party, ask him if he would be willing to rent a cap and gown and wear them for a photo.

You can still go to the graduation if you want. Dress up, listen to the speeches, go out to dinner afterward. Do it with the people who were going to go to his graduation (particularly if he won't consent to a party). You can celebrate that your son finished college, even if he won't be there to celebrate with you. I can't imagine ruining a good relationship with my child for something so trivial. Anon

Of course not, or if you ''insist'' you should be prepared for this to damage your relationship with him for awhile. He left HS 12 years ago,so he's got to be at least 30? How is this even a question really? He is a grown man who got himself through college. Offer to throw a family party for him to celebrate this milestone, but otherwise you need to put aside your own desires for cap and gown photos and let him make his way. Will he regret it someday? Who knows? My husband skipped all his graduations after high school (college, PhD) and doesn't regret it at all. Some people really don't value these ceremonies. anon

You are making this accomplishment about you, when it's really about your son. Sorry, but you can't ''make'' him walk, and you shouldn't guilt him into it. Who invited all the relatives? Was he included in those plans? He's close to 30 years old, and certainly entitled to his opinion, and old enough to make his own decisions about what's important to him. It just may be that the annual camping trip means far more to him than any ceremony, and you may just need to let this go. Buy the cap and gown, take some happy photos together, be glad that he graduated, and let him go camping. Mom of 3

It is his decision to walk or not. I didn't walk in either college or high school and never regretted my decision. As you said, he is an adult now. Maybe his way of celebrating is to go camping with his friends. I'd back off. Been there

No! Let him go on a camping trip! I think it's kind of mature of him to prefer that over the graduation. You can always plan a dinner with family the next weekend. It is about him, not you. Happy to Not Conform

No. Don't insist he walk. He graduated: that is the important part. If a camping trip is more meaningful to him than the graduation ceremony, let him go. I know this is painful for you, we parents love ritual. Some kids, too. But yours doesn't and that should be respected. Your relationship with him is more important than walking the stage. He is an adult. Let him make his own decisions. And you MUST be gracious about it! Smile! Tell him to have a great time! And then cry in private. Anon

There's no good answer to your question. Yes, out of respect for you and to express his gratitude to you for paying rent and other expenses for four years, he should walk. But he's acting selfishly and that's in part because he feels entitled and that is in part because you spoiled him a bit by paying out so much cash to someone who's fully an adult (and it sounds like he must be close to 30 now, is that right?). I'm not trying to sound judgmental because I fear that will be me in 10 years with my son who probably will not be on the college-bound trajectory we had been hoping for (though he's only in 8th grade--much too soon to throw in the towel!). My cousin this very month is doing the same thing to his parents. They fully paid for his college education including rent and he's finally graduating at age 26, and guess what, he'll be in Europe with his girlfriend on a grand tour on the day he should be walking the stage for his parents. And they financed much of the Europe trip, as a graduation present. So yes, your son should walk as a thank you gift to you, as my cousin should do for his parents, but he's a full-fledged adult and you can't make him. But no guilt trips, please, as those always have unintended consequences (as you are experiencing). All you can do is state plainly what you would like and why (in one or two sentences, no drama) and leave it at that. Congratulations by the way. Finishing college is a big deal, especially when your son took as long as he did. I'm on your side, but that doesn't help

My son will be 26 when he graduates next year, after a difficult journey, so I can relate to how important this is for you. It looks like your son is about 28? I think you need to emphasize to him that you know you can't make him do anything and you certainly do not want to make him participate in the graduation. But do reiterate that it is important to you and other family members. Maybe you can come up with alternatives. He still rents the gear and you have a family photo session? You have a family celebration a different weekend? congratulations to both of you

Short answer: don't do it, mama. This is his achievement and he gets to define how he experiences it.

Anecdote time, which I submit only as a possible explanation for why he might be feeling as he does. I'm married to a man who finished high school, then dropped out of college almost immediately to work a series of low-paying dead-end jobs while falling victim to drug addiction. Miraculously, he cleaned himself up, started at community college and then transferred to a well-regarded private college to get his bachelor's degree. We got together during his community college phase in our early 20s, and he got his BA just before turning 30.

I and his family are immensely proud of him. He is proud of himself. It is, as you say, a huge milestone. You know who's not immensely proud of him? His traditional college classmates. His professors. Most of the middle-class world he & I live in. Finishing college is de rigeur for them, and let me tell you, nothing sours a big victory like experiencing it alongside people who can't understand why it was so much harder for you than them. My husband enjoyed college, but he was so very relieved when he finished to not stick out any more as an adult among people who just started drinking legally. There are constant tiny humiliations: not being financially supported by your parents and not being able to buy the same stuff, losing out on an award to someone 10 years younger than you, taking a class from someone the other students buzz about as being ''so accomplished - I hope I have her career!'' only to find out this professor is your age, but she has advanced degrees and professional status while you have...?

Anyway, this may not be the case for your son. But maybe he'd like to leave behind the period of his life that reminded him how far behind he was and instead enjoy a trip with his friends, where he's valued as a peer. Really, the graduation ceremony is not the achievement. anon please!

PS: do you remember your college graduation ceremony? I don't. I remember it was hot and I wasn't sitting with my friends. That's all. I was 22 and it seemed important at the time, but 15 years later, I wouldn't say the ceremony was important at all.

Get a cap & gown and take a photo, just not at the ceremony. I am empathetic that you, as Mom, have not had the chance to experience a graduation and that it may be an important milestone for you. still anon please!

I have to admit I'm somewhat saddened by many of the responses to Should I Insist that He Walk? True, this is not something you can make a young man do, esp at his age. But the young man's behavior does strike me as rather self-absorbed and disregardful of other people, including people who helped him, like his mother. I doubt he was saying ''It's my business, leave me alone'' when she was writing the checks to help him with housing, and it wouldn't hurt the young man at all to think of other people as well as himself. Graduation is partly an individual accomplishment, but also a family accomplishment, and family matters. I don't see any indication in the mom's question that she wants to make the ceremony ''about her,'' just that she wants to have a family celebration. The mom and maybe other relatives want to celebrate with the young man out of love and support. The best solution, as some suggested, is to suggest an alternative family celebration (translation: mom gets to plan and figure out all that so her son can go on his trip when he wants to). But I don't see anything wrong with the mom letting him know that she and others would love to see him walk - say it once, then let it go. It does strike me that the position of ''well, it's all his thing so let him do whatever he wants'' panders to a rather solipsistic view. Anonymous