The moment the band began playing “Pomp and Circumstance,” I reached into my purse for a tissue. Today closed a chapter in my daughter Aimee’s life, our life, as she marched into the auditorium for her high school graduation. She held her head high, trying to look serious. That wasn’t possible, it wasn’t her nature. She walked past me with a big grin and a wave.

This day was 19 years in the making. Aimee has Down syndrome, which made today an emotional one for both of us. Her high school years had been wonderful. She learned the basics – reading, writing and calculator math – along with living skills. The school had mainstreamed her into two of their non-academic programs: chorus and swim team. Her classmates were supportive of her in both of these activities.

Aimee may not have been the best voice in the choir, but she was probably the happiest. At the spring concert she sang her heart out. It was the same with swimming. Aimee may not have been the fastest swimmer, but she gave it her all. When she won the occasional race, she’d exit the pool as if she’d won a gold medal: with her hands over her head, giving her teammates high-fives as she passed them.

I continued dabbing my eyes as the graduation proceeded as usual: with remarks from the superintendent, chair of the school board, valedictorian, salutatorian and class president. Finally, the diplomas were handed out. Aimee waited patiently in line, quietly tapping her foot. When it was her turn, she managed to walk, not run up to receive her diploma. The moment it was in her hand, she fist-pumped the air. As I mopped tears from my cheeks, I folded my hand into my husband’s, noticing his tears. I passed him a tissue, which he brushed away.

After the last diploma was handed out the band started playing “Pomp and Circumstance” again as the graduates filed out. The students became more boisterous as each row joined the line. Once everyone was in line, the class president yelled, “One, two, three!” Instantly, more than a hundred white and red hats flew into the air. The entire auditorium exploded. Parents rose to their feet clapping as the pace of the students exiting picked up. Aimee’s school days were officially over.

The path to get her here hadn’t always been easy, but Aimee’s graduation made up for it. Now she and I have to navigate what’s next. She already had a job lined up. I knew that in a few years she’d move out from underneath my wing. That would be hard for me, maybe not so hard for her. I reached for a new tissue, then blew my nose.

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