Archive: Graduation Circle

May 1, 2000
By Ann Linnea

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Each month we share with you a story of how circle is being used effectively in a variety of settings. May and June are the time of graduations. Though we may have only vague recollections of our own high school or college or other graduations, many of us harbor a secret desire to have this same exercise be a true rite of passage for our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or neighbors. Ann Linnea shares this story from Whidbey Island, Washington which shows a way that circle helped her create a meaningful experience out of her son’s high school graduation.

When my son graduated from high school a couple of years ago, I thought a lot about how to create an event that would help him mark this time as an important passage and how to weave a meaningful experience for diverse parts of our family and friendship group. All four of Brian’s grandparents were coming as was his father, my new partner, his younger sister, an aunt and uncle, and some friends. It would be the first time all of these people had gathered together.

Brian is a thoughtful young man who genuinely enjoys the company of both adults and peers and respects the work I’ve been doing with circle. He and I created a plan to have a potluck supper at our house after the graduation ceremony followed by a circle where people could offer him good wishes and advice for the future. We sent out an invitation describing our intention for the gathering.

After a too long and too hot graduation service, we traveled to our home to share good food and conversation. As dishes were done and the food finished, I invited people into the living room. "Thank you for coming to share this event in our lives. As we said in the invitation, we wanted to gather in circle to give each of you an opportunity to say something to Brian to help him mark this transition time in his life—congratulations, advice, whatever you wish. The circle will begin with whomever wishes to speak first and moves left from there. If you’re not ready to speak, simply pass and we’ll come back around."

Everyone was silent looking at the collection of presents, Brian’s graduation picture, and the candle burning on an end table in the center of our circle. "I’ll speak first," said his paternal grandmother. "When I found out our first grandchild was going to be adopted from Korea, I didn’t know how I’d feel about having a grandchild so different from myself. But from the day I met Brian he has been our grandchild in every way. We are so proud of him."

Next his paternal grandfather spoke a similar accolade. His fifteen-year-old sister, not given to the same support of my work as her brother, passed. Her friend thanked Brian for being a good friend to her,too, and wished him well. One by one we offered advice and appreciation to this young man. I actually don’t remember what I or my partner, Christina, said. I do remember that his father read a thoughtful essay on the difference between achievement and success. When the circle came back around to Brian’s sister, Sally, she was silent for a moment and then burst into tears. "I am going to miss you so much!" No one said anything while Sally sobbed.

Then Brian spoke. He repeated much of what had been spoken to him, thanking us for the kindness and wisdom and he spoke his own hopes and dreams for his life. He was speaking to us as a man, not as an eighteen-year-old who hadn’t even left home yet. It was if the collective wisdom and energy in the room had gathered in him and coalesced into a deep synopsis of all we were feeling. And when he was finished, Brian said, "Sally, come sit over here and help me open these presents." The circle moved into an easy conversational mode of people chatting about the gifts that had been brought. Afterwards in the kitchen when my mother and I were cleaning up the dessert dishes, she said, "Ann, that was a most amazing gathering. Most people don’t get to hear that kind of praise and support in their entire lifetime."