Leaving Childhood Behind

Among his many gifts, Staples High School principal John Dodig has mastered the art of communicating important truths with simplicity and grace.

Recently, he sent a note to parents of graduating seniors. But its message is far broader. It should be read by anyone with children, of any age — and anyone who ever was a child. Dodig wrote:

Each year at this time I send a message to senior parents warning them to be ready for the feelings of loss as graduation day nears. This year, you and I are in the same boat. Both of us will face the end of our involvement in our child’s/student’s school life. Whether you have only one child or several, you will be hit with this intense sense of “the end” at some point between now and graduation day.

Graduation is a time for looking ahead -- and back.

Graduation is a time for looking ahead — and back.

What makes the American high school experience unique in the world is that high school is so much more than simply a place to go each day to learn. In most of the rest of the world, if you want to learn to play the cello, learn to draw or cook, or be competitive at a sport, you do so on your own time on weekends.

In America, all of these experiences are wrapped up in the same package. Our children leave home each morning and return sometimes late at night having studied French and calculus and then done something after school.

Chances are, you and I were on the sidelines to watch the team, or in the audience to hear the concert and to support our child/student. We become so much a part of their lives that facing the end of this experience is difficult to imagine.

Parents support many activities -- including the annual pops concert in the Staples courtyard.

Parents support many activities — including the annual pops concert in the Staples courtyard.

Think back, for a moment, on the 1st day of school for your child. Try to imagine holding his little hand as you walked him to the bus or to school or even to the classroom.

You might remember your child not wanting to let go of you, maybe even crying. You knew you had to let go and allow her to begin the 12-year journey through public school.

That journey was sometimes difficult and sometimes easy. Those little hands got bigger and, at some point, didn’t want to be held in public any more.

Growing up

Once in high school, these little boys and girls began changing into young men and women. Their bodies changed, their minds changed, their emotions changed, and they began to become somewhat independent people.

You still fed them. You still washed their clothes. You still paid for everything, but you sensed that they were beginning to separate from you and to prepare for a life apart from you and family.

On graduation day you will share in an emotional experience with your son or daughter. You will hug, get photos taken, have a party with family and then face a long summer where they will start preparing for what will come after high school.

They will always be your children, but you will never again be a part of their lives in the way you have been for the past twelve years. That will come to an end.


Among the “graduates” this year: principal John Dodig (right).

I will share your sense of loss, because I have watched thousands of young kids walk into our high school and begin to grow into competent, well-educated young adults only to leave us on graduation day. This will be the last graduation day for me, and I am grateful to share it with your child.

Use the next few months to revel in your beautiful creation. Your son/daughter will take a part of you into the future and perhaps create a new generation. Make that last hug in school at graduation tighter and stronger than normal, so that the feeling of that hug will last forever.

8 responses to “Leaving Childhood Behind

  1. Gonna miss him 🙂

  2. Well that hits the nail on the head. As the mom of 2 Staples graduates (’09 & ’12), I read this nodding and wiping away tears. The main reason we moved to CT 20 years ago was for our children to receive the incredible education and opportunities offered, and they did! Thank you Mr. Dodig and best of luck in your next chapter!!

  3. Steve Axthelm

    Beautifully captured John. Laura and I remain very grateful for the Staples part of the journey and people Emma ’11 and Charlotte ’12 grew to be while there. Thank you and God speed.

  4. sandy johnson

    Well done!!! My youngest son graduated in 1984 – wow – where did all that time go!! We, as parents, keep all the happy memories and even the crazy wild sometimes not so nice memories in our hearts!! My very best to Mr. Dodig – enjoy your retirement years = they are great – I say that as a former teacher in the Norwalk school system who has been enjoying retirement for several years now — favorite part NOT having to get up at 6 AM

    • Sandy, John gets up long before 6 a.m.! He is well known for going to the gym before school — and arriving at Staples by 6 a.m. He gets all his administrative “stuff” done early, so he can be in the halls at 7 a.m. greeting students!

  5. Susan Hopkins

    Beautiful letter every parent should share with their newly-minted graduate. There isn’t a day my [late] parents aren’t with me in spirit, manner, and form.

  6. With your last graduation this year as well as ours, John, your words ring so true and are lump-inducing. Thank you so much for all that you’ve been for Staples. We wish for you all good things!

  7. John Dodig, I want you to know that over the years I have shared your wisdom-filled letters with many far-flung friends and family members, all of whom have appreciated them as much as my husband and I have here in Westport. Like Lisa Bowman above, this is our graduation year, too, and we are wistful, but mostly we are profoundly grateful. Thanks so much for your positive role in the community. Godspeed to you!