“I’ won’t have a special ribbon when I graduate, will I?” Alli asked.
I looked at my youngest, as tears welled up in her eyes.
She watched as her older brother reluctantly posed for graduation pictures in the high school cafeteria, a purple ribbon around his neck.
My heart broke for her.
The year before, her older sister graduated with a black ribbon.
(Purple and black ribbons distinguished laude honors.)
Students not receiving laude honors wore a red ribbon.
It’s not that Alli didn’t enjoy school.
Because she did. Especially being with her friends and talking with her teachers.
She was enthusiastic and outgoing. And always eager to help others.
But she never felt ‘good at school’.
There were some challenging times. There were times of frustration and disappointment.
And there were tears.
And then, about a month before her high school graduation, she suffered a concussion after hitting her head on the cement floor at volleyball practice while diving for a ball.
She spent the remainder of her high school days in her room, shades drawn, lying on her bed. She never made it back to school full time, but her teachers were accommodating, modifying her assignments, allowing her to listen to auditory books and take her finals when she felt ready.
She graduated with a red ribbon.
A gold tassel, too.
But ‘just’ a red ribbon.
By mid-June, she was feeling like herself again, but after several attempts, could not pass the concussion test that would allow her to resume normal activity.
She was referred to a neuropsychologist.
The doctor believed Alli had always had a slight language impairment, which explained her inability to pass a specific section of the concussion test.
Finally, on August 2nd, days before heading off to college to begin life as a collegiate athlete, Alli was cleared to resume normal activities, which included playing volleyball.
I worried she would struggle at college, especially since she was at an academically rigorous school 1,000 miles away from home.
And it was difficult, but success on the volleyball court kept her going when times got tough.
Sometime during her senior year, when trying to figure out the ‘what comes next’ part of her life, she realized she would need to continue her schooling if she was going to honor her passion.
So she applied to and was accepted to graduate school.
In May of 2017, she became a college grad.
And a few months later, she went back to school to earn her master’s degree.
This time, school was different. She was motivated and driven to succeed.
She realized the narrative she had written for herself years ago could be rewritten.
She could be ‘good at school’.
She has accomplished so much these past two and a half years.
But what I am most proud of is how much she has grown.
When she began the program she was passionate, but now she also has confidence.
While she has always been empathetic, she is now composed in her empathy.
And while she has always been energetic, she now has focus.
And it’s these changes that make today so special.
Because today, we attended Alli’s Hooding Ceremony.
And on Saturday, she will graduate with her Master of Science in Education with an emphasis in School Counseling.
Complete with a special cord, distinguishing academic honors.
Looking back, I can now see how her struggles have helped her become the successful woman she is today.
And I know without a doubt, she is going to make the world a better place.