Through my sixty plus years, I’ve attended many commencements…my own being one of them. All commencements hold a place in my heart, even those I didn’t attend. Why? Because of the success that person holds. To accomplish any goal deserves an “attaboy” – but this particular commencement holds so much more. Today is about my stepdaughter, Jessica James Vermote. I met Jessica over five years ago when her dad and I were married. We were dating when she graduated high school, and though I wasn’t there, I enjoyed the bright light of pride in her dad’s eyes when he returned from Ohio.

Now six years later, on May 14, 2016, we watched Jessica walk on stage and receive her Degree of Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology. Any graduation is a ceremony of pride, but a college graduation holds a different meaning because that person has chosen a field they plan to move forward with as a means of etching out a life for themselves. At that age, I thought I knew what I wanted, only to change my mind five years later. Many young people change their majors in mid-stream, trying hard to understand where they will fit best in the adult world. But not Jessica, she knew what she wanted and never waivered. She is very much like her dad in the sense that they understand the mechanics of things…not my strength at all. I listen to them talk about the subject, all of which goes right over my head, and I see a common interest as they decipher, examine, and re-engineer something into a better product. I simply enjoy watching their bond grow as Jessica continues to blossom into adulthood.

We spent a couple of days before commencement getting her mother’s house ready for the big party to follow the next day. My smart husband created a new fire pit, so s’mores could be cooked outside for a late night snack. The food was on order, chairs picked up, decorations adorned the rooms, and a cake in the shape of books sat deliciously on the dessert table. Jessica’s friends and most of her family members were there to share in the celebration. As I took pictures of the event, there were conversations of laughter, pride, and excitement for Jessica’s new adventure in life…but it was bittersweet…because just shy of eight months ago Jessica lost her brother to suicide. He had turned nineteen less than a month earlier. Freshly graduated from high school, with potential for the future.  Here was Jessica, her last year of college, and now her heart and soul are shattered. Her buddy, her pal, her confidant, her brother has left her. Many siblings in this situation would crumble, and who would blame them…grief takes over, and nothing else matters. But that is what makes this graduation so special because Jessica is a fighter…she turned tragedy into triumph. After taking time off school, she made up the work, persevered and kept a promise to herself, and likely to her brother, to complete her goal. What drove this young woman through the toughest eight months of her life will surely drive her forever. Her courage is so powerful that nothing will stop this girl, making me wonder if I could have been so brave. Would I have pushed that hard to the finish line, or faded into the night like a lightning bug at the end of their time?

Whatever it is that drives a person to push him or herself, Jessica has tenfold, and though I am very proud of her, my pride pales in comparison to what her parents must feel. An “attaboy” will never be enough for this young woman. Even congratulations seem to dim in the light of what she has accomplished. As tears fill my eyes with happiness, I can only say thank you, Jessica James Vermote, for letting me have the privilege to witness this fantastic time with you.