David Gusick: “The Graduation Speech For Parents No One Asked Me To Write”

The other day, reader David Gusick took this pre-prom picture, and sent it to “06880.”

. (Photo/David Gusick)

Tomorrow, more than 450 seniors graduate from Staples High School.

Today — inspired by the prom, the rest of the graduation activities, and the upcoming commencement — he addresses his son Sam, and the rest of the Class of 2019:

You may think this is your day. But it’s our day too.

I am not the class valedictorian, nor do I wear any fancy robes or caps to indicate that I am a man of letters. But reaching certain milestones, no matter who you are, is a good time to gather thoughts, reflect and write them down.

So I did. And so should you.

Sorry, kids. This speech is for your parents. But you may still want to listen. You might learn something.

Staples graduates listen to Dave Gusick’s speech. Or at least, the Class of ’18 listened to someone last year.

While you may think this day is all about you — and to a certain extent it is — I’m here to help educate you that today is just as much about us parents, and the blood, sweat and tears we shed to help get you here today.

Almost every parent here today should agree that you, our children, are our crowning achievement. The greatest thing most of us will ever create. To see you successfully pass this milestone is just as much a testament to our hard work as it is for yours.

Even before you were born, “the worry” began. With each phase of your life, new worries begin. Because with every opportunity comes risks.

As newborns, you gave us a literal wake-up call (typically at 2 a.m.) that our lives no longer belonged to just us.

As babies you relied on us for everything. Your survival literally depended on us.

As toddlers we had our introduction to the “great letting go,” as we exchanged our control for your independence.

In a late-summer ritual, this eager group of Caccamo Lane and Juniper Road kids waited for the first bus of the year. (Photo/Pam Long)

That is the time we moved to Westport from New York. It was shortly after 911, and just before our son’s 2nd birthday.

Like many of you, we moved here for the schools. Westport schools always rank near the top in the state and nation. Plus, Westport had Bar Method classes, which my wife didn’t think existed outside of Manhattan.

We made new friends quickly with other parents who were also new to the area.

When kindergarten started, our playgroups scattered to the 5 elementary schools. While we remained friends with some families, our attention focused on families who attended our elementary schools.

Having children that age and younger is perhaps the closest your family will ever be. You go everywhere and do everything together. You are a team.

While certain children are easier than others, raising any child is never easy. Having children forces us to be our better selves. Whether you like it or not you are now their teacher, coach, mentor and role model.

Elementary school activities are perhaps the most difficult to watch as parents. The orchestra sounds like a beached whale begging to be euthanized.

The first year kids pitch in youth baseball is mostly watching them walk around the bases as pitchers futilely try to avoid hitting the backstop and batter.

For generations, a rite of growing up.

You attend these recitals, games, tournaments, performances year after year after year. At first their progress is so incremental you barely notice their advancement.

Then comes the middle school phase. The kids keep getting better and better, accelerating with seemingly no end in sight. Next thing you know, they’re going to the Little League World Series!

Finally, high school.

We come back together. One school, one community: Staples. Now our lives, schedules and friendships are driven by YOUR activities, practices, rehearsals.

This message is for parents and students.

To be a healthy and happy adult, it is important to understand closure. Having unfinished business — especially with your parents — will stunt your future growth. You can blame us for any of your problems, but know this: We did the best we could with what we had to work with. We did what we thought was best. As did our parents before us. As will you, too.

A parent’s job — and joys — never ends.

Only understanding, acceptance and closure will prepare us for our next chapter, and our continued growth.

Parents are no longer the gods you saw us as when you were little. We are flawed. To maintain that pretense would be a disservice to you.

I love the annual ritual of Staples’ Back to School Night. It a reunion of sorts for us parents. I jokingly refer to it as “back together.” Many of the couples we knew starting out are no longer together. But for one night we return to the way things used to be.

Now there is a weariness, from years of work and worry. For ourselves and our children, that took a toll.

And so it goes.

As you become upperclassmen, you make some sort of invisible leap.

Part of the payoff for Dave Gusick: Watching his son Sam (3rd from left) in Staples Players’  “Twelve Angry Men.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

The musical ensembles are now pitch perfect. You sound like a single instrument. Your performances are infused with so much emotion that it brings grown men to tears. Seeing a Staples Players production is almost always better than seeing a Broadway show. The quality and standards are so high, and they are performed by our kids, for our town.

Just last week people posted prom pictures. Kids I hadn’t seen since nursery school have grown into such handsome and beautiful young adults!

You are now quicker, stronger, faster, sharper, more inquisitive and engaged than we are.

It is natural to feel nervous and scared about what comes next. I know I am. We have worked 18 years to help you be the best person you can be. To equip you with the skills you need to take care of yourself, and cope with all of the challenges life will throw your way.

To the graduating seniors: You are no longer children. Yet no matter how old you become, even when you are in your 50s and  60s we will refer to you as “our children.”

When each of you walk up to accept your diploma, there will be a community of people extending beyond your parents who have quietly rooted for you and your success.

So that brings us to today. Take a moment to forgive your parents for any mistakes you think we made. Thank us for the innumerable sacrifices you never saw. No matter how you feel about us, your happiness and growth have always been our #1 priority. In return, we asked for almost nothing.

Finally, to the parents: Our job will always be to listen. And to love.

Thank you.

10 responses to “David Gusick: “The Graduation Speech For Parents No One Asked Me To Write”

  1. Love this! Well said (and written). Will share this with my son.

  2. Michael Vitelli

    Well done Mr. Gusick,

    We are 19/16 years removed from this experience with “our children”, but reading your words made it feel like yesterday.

    You correctly noted that the “worries” never disappear, they just evolve. Now in our sixties, we blessed to have our joy and worries extend to a daughter-in-law and two beautiful granddaughters.

    Equally rewarding is our children recognize and appreciate our efforts on their behalf. Seeing them with their families and friends confirms that they were indeed always watching.

    It keeps getting better. Keep enjoying the ride.

    Be well

  3. Barbara Stephen

    Loved reading this👏👍🌈

  4. Ian E. Warburg

    Bravo, David!!

    Beautifully said, and spot on.

  5. Teale Stevens

    Beautifully said David, you’ve captured what we all go through !
    Sharing with my son who’s in college, it’s a great reminder that parents are humans too !

  6. Geoff Hodgkinson

    My father (Bill Hodgkinson, 1915-2012) would have loved this, too. In fact, he’s the Marauders’ Little League manager in the photo accompanying the article. The only player I recognize is Bobbie Montanaro to his left (in profile, with helmet).

  7. A.J. Grossman

    Love this Dave. So well said and so true that so many of us are going through this right now with at least one of our kids. It’s an amazing right of passage that is a mixture of pride and joy and sadness and regrets and optimism. We love without restraint, yet we are apprehensive. We see the potential and are filled with exhilaration, while also wondering what more we could have done. You capture this and I thank you. Good luck with your graduation (since, as you point it, it is very much yours as well as your child’s). Mine was a few weeks ago and, as she gets ready for Duke, I’m already wondering what I can do to help and further nurture her younger brother who is only three years behind. Congratulations, thank you again, and here we go again.

  8. My youngest child just turned 50. Her two brothers and she graduated from Staples, They are all still the joy of my life and your words today resonate still. Love them without judgement, keep them close. And lots of hugs. Love them always!!

  9. Sara Dworken

    David, I love this. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Lori Winthrop

    David Gusick thank you. You’re words have been in my head for days as I watch my twins fly off together. For the first time ever, come September we will live in 3 separate locations. It is everything I have hoped for, worked for, given selflessly for, and yet it is so bittersweet. Today belongs to all of us. Without this amazing community of friends to help and support in good times and bad our children’s lives would be less than they are. Congrats to all parents, grandparents, friends and the class of 2019!