Amanda Washington and her classmate

Amanda Washington and her classmate

*This has been an exciting graduation season.

Whether it’s preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school or college, they all evoke a sense of pride, hope and optimism.

The pride is breath-taking.

The hope is ethereal.

Ahhh . . . but the optimism is awe-inspiring, anchored in that hallow moment we believe is a glimpse into the future – minus the filters of reality that tend to eclipse it.

My niece Amanda recently graduated from high school here in Los Angeles. My family and I experienced a wave of emotion and so much more. It was truly a blue ribbon moment for this young woman who graduated with many honors and is bound for UCLA this fall. The collective pride, hope and optimism we all felt as a family was enormous. Her parents have done an extraordinary job in raising her and they will tell you it took a village to “get her over the goal post.” I am honored to be considered a part of that village.

As Amanda stood in line donned in her ceremonious cap and gown, we waited patiently for her graduation to be conferred. Time seemed to stand still.  We didn’t seem to mind. When she approached the stage it was as if she was gliding through air. Do you remember your graduation glide? I do and this moment took me back, way back. When the principal announced her name and handed Amanda her actual certificate of graduation, her wide smile and glistening eyes said it all. We cheered joyously.

Graduations are not only hallowed moments but pivotal ones. They serve as milestones and touchstones in our life’s journey. As Amanda passed from high school student to high school graduate, I couldn’t help but think that moment had added significance. It’s a rite of passage moment, her coming of age. It’s her pronouncement that she had entered a new phase of life. It signified her entrance into the world of adulthood inherent with all its rights, wrongs, responsibilities, privileges and obligations.

Rite of passage, when was the last time you heard that phase? In many cultures the rite of passage is marked by a ritual or celebration to underscore a young person’s passage into the age of responsibility. Baptism, confirmation, Bar Mitzvah, Quinceañera and some any even argue that the Debutante ball are modern day rites of passage.

Once upon a time marriage was considered the crowing rite of passage. When young people graduated from high school back in the days gone by, many immediately got married and at that time marriage was the act that conferred adulthood with the rights, wrongs, responsibilities, privileges and obligations I spoke of earlier.

Today that has all changed.  Yet there is something in the human spirit that is hard-wired to mark this transition into the age of responsibility and adulthood inwardly as well as outwardly. This premise is at the core of organized and informal rites of passage programs around the nation that seem to ebb and flow with the fluctuation of crime rates. Well, that is my commentary.

But the rite of passage for my lovely niece will not end here. If she works hard, perseveres and becomes the accomplished young woman we all believe she will be, the next rite of passage that awaits her will be more sobering than ceremonious.  I call it the “rite of reckoning.”

It’s that juncture in life where you measure the possibilities against the realities and determine the sum of what’s important right now as you look out over the path of your life.

It’s a mouth full, it’s a thought full. And Anne-Marie Slaughter articulates it so well in a recent first person article she wrote for the Atlantic Magazine called, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”

Slaughter speaks candidly about the work-life “imbalance” she experienced as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. in the Obama Administration from January 2009 to February 2011. It was a glamorous, fulfilling, high profile position.

Her rite of reckoning came when at a White House reception she couldn’t stop thinking about her 14-year-old son who had resumed his normal antics of “skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him.”  This was the moment she summed it all up and decided to find a job in New Jersey where she and her husband lived and one that would allow her to be more hands on with her son.

But Slaughter didn’t push back from saying women can’t have it all. In the article she stated: “I’ve said for ages that ‘Yes, you can have it all, you just have to work at it.’ I didn’t realize how much of that depended on my being able to control my own time.”

Slaughter earned the right of this passage by virtue of the long hours of study and hard work she invested in the front end of her career. When this moment came she had a wealth of experience and a trunk load of cache to cast out her net and pull in a trove of choices from which to choose. Perhaps this is the key to having it all – more or less of it all – when you decide and as your life’s journey changes or requires rerouting.

For now I will let Amanda revel in her accomplishment and join her in celebrating her rite of passage. She doesn’t need to worry her smart little head about what’s up the road right now. But down the road I will share with her my own personal rite of reckoning and its impact on my life. She has a right to know but just not now.

Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information.  For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected]

veronica hendrix

Veronica Hendrix