The Greatest Graduation Gift

The past few weeks have been filled with milestones, some bittersweet. Little children sang songs at their graduation plays as parents and grandparents smiled and shepped nachas. Many wiped away tears as they watched their older sons and daughters say their goodbyes and begin a new season of life. Was it not just yesterday when they were clutching our hands tightly, putting their little fingers into ours as we walked them to the first day of school? Where have all the years gone?

We’ve tried hard through these years to transmit middos, help children discover the magic that lies within their soul and never falter despite the challenges that life brings. We’ve done our best to guide, inspire and most of all, love, even when we were disappointed or upset. We hope and daven that our light remains to illuminate our children’s path.

In my parenting classes I stress the importance of teaching children the middah of hakoras hatov from the earliest age. The foundation of every home must be solid or else the home cannot stand. Just as the physical foundation must not be cracked, the spiritual foundation must not be splintered. The spiritual foundation upon which a bayis is built is hakoras hatov. Children who express thankfulness realize the blessings in their lives and value not only their possessions but the people and experiences in their lives as well.

As our older children eagerly anticipate the next stage of their lives, it becomes easy for them to be caught up with planning, packing up and joining friends as they celebrate together. It takes tremendous character to hit the pause button and think about all that parents and grandparents have done to make this possible. A simple thank you is somehow not so simple to receive. While many parents are busy giving gifts to their children, it is rare to find the child who gives the gift of thankfulness in return.

A group of women whom I teach have been climbing the ladder of Yiddishkeit as we studied together for many years. I watched their children grow from infants to graduation. It is not easy for these mothers to live in two worlds. They carefully take notes, ask questions from the heart and then gingerly bring home Torah’s teachings and try to make it become a genuine part of their family’s lives. Though not all husbands or children are on board, these women never give up. They truly love Hashem and His Torah. Their sons and daughters go to secular schools but that does not stop them from kindling the lights of Shabbos, creating beautiful Shabbos tables, and always sharing the lessons they have learned. Footsteps are being created for the next generation with tremendous sacrifice.

They worry, too, about how to instill middos in their children, especially growing up in a world that is filled with spiritual pollution. We speak about derech eretz, emes, tznius, loshon hora, love for fellow Jews, kindness and compassion. One middah in particular the women have focused on is trying to help their children appreciate all the good they have been given, to live life with Modeh Ani as their daily anthem. The test has been to hold onto this attitude of gratitude as their children grow.

One mother recently shared with me a letter that her son wrote on the eve of his graduation. Incredibly moved, I asked for permission to share this young man’s words.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I just want to write you a quick note to say thank you for making my life happy, healthy and full of love. I can’t find the right words to express how incredibly grateful I am to both of you for the experiences I have had in my life and the opportunities that lay before me. I was thinking the other day how we tend to only tell people how much they mean to us on a holiday or their birthday; for most people I am fine with that arrangement but Mom and Dad , you are so much more special to me than a generic card or cheap present a couple of times a year.

It seems that most people only take a step back to reflect after suffering a loss. I am so thankful that I have yet to experience a tragedy in my life. Instead I want to celebrate my parents; the two people I know I could never live without. Every single important decision I have ever made in my life I’ve made by trusting the values you’ve instilled in me. I wish I had the word or phrase to describe to you the immense comfort your unconditional support has given me throughout my life.

I know that the two of you have given me more than I can ever give back to you. Mom, you have been doing this every day of your life as a mother. You have made sure that no matter what else is happening in the world, your children are well protected and taken care of. You are truly the most selfless person I have ever known. Watching you I have learned what true compassion, loyalty and love really mean.

Dad, you work long hours and commute so far each day just so that we will never want for anything. You rarely treat yourself to luxuries but only want for us, your family. You have gone through some hard times but taught me never to give up. You will always be my hero.

Mom and Dad, you are the foundation of my life. I am so thankful for every second we spend together. I love you forever.

• • •

This young man learned the lesson of hakoras hatov well. He is right; no matter what stage one is up to, this is the time to reflect and say thank you. Too often one realizes that these precious words have been left unsaid, but it is too late. The moment has passed one by.

Mazel tov to all the parents, grandparents and children. May we see nachas and share simchos.

“Urei vonim levonecha shalom al Yisroel.”