This past Sunday, my pastor spoke on discipleship. In discussion of what discipleship actually is (growth), he discussed how some people may get confused that at the end of twelve years of high school they graduate and participate in commencement. Commencement is not the end of something; rather, commencement is the beginning of the rest of your life. However, for some that may be the defining moment of their life – the culmination of all they will accomplish.

According to, commencement is a beginning, or a start. Merriam-Webster defines it as a point in time in which one “enters upon the next”. In just a few months, commencement will take place at a number of schools. At the community college where I work, reminders are going out to students reminding them to petition to graduate by a certain date. At Fidos For Freedom, a service dog and therapy dog organization, commencement takes place at the banquet that takes place each May. Clients who are “graduating” this year are already gearing up for speeches, festivities, and recognition of a completion of training.

Yet these exercises are not an ending to anything. Rather, they are a beginning. For college students they may be transferring to a four year college to obtain a higher degree. It may mean looking for that ideal career. For clients at Fidos For Freedom, it is the start of a new life of independence – with trainers and “family” in the wings should any further assistance be needed.

Safe People

The topic of my favorite book, “Safe People”, has been a recurring theme in many of my discussions with family and friends lately. I actually dug my copy out to read it again, because I found myself recommending it to several different people. Learning to identify and avoid unsafe people and relationships can be a hard-learned lesson. I think the truths that have permanently etched themselves on my heart and mind from this book, are how to be a safe person MYSELF. For me, it was reaching a point in time when I could turn my back on the past and boldly face my future. Sure! I took lessons learned from the past – in my relationships, problems, and successes – but armed myself with those lessons to be better equipped for my future.

It has been a commencement for me. Like Merriam-Webster explains… it is a period of time where I chose to “enter upon the next” chapter of my life.

Progressive Illness/Disability

I think one of the frustrating things about having progressive hearing loss, or chronic illness/disability, is that one may commence living life with a new charge for life , equipped to be as independent as possible, only for changes in our health to take us back to square one. Prior to my cochlear implant, I remember learning to cope with the telephone, conversations in crowded places, and learning to speak with people with poor communication habits. However, in a matter of months my hearing would take a dive and I would discover that what worked last month, didn’t work at all now! Like most families with small children at home, we lived paycheck to paycheck. We pinched pennies and scrimped and saved to purchase an amplified telephone for me. For five or six months I was in telephone heaven! I used the phone every single day with confidence and enthusiasm. It didn’t take long, however, before I was struggling to even use that new gadget. I earned a little extra time by using it when the kids were outside and the house was relatively quiet. What was once easy became increasingly difficult. Eventually, the frustration of what I wasn’t hearing, despite hearing aids set to t-coil and begging people on the other end to speak clearly into the phone, had the phone collecting dust from lack of use. I’d talk to other HoHearies and get some new ideas. At some point though? The phone became a thing of my past. I had to come up with ways to contact people other than the phone. For the late-deafened community, the emergence of email, texting, and even FaceBook became very real “life-savers” in terms of being able to freely communicate with others. Although I hear well enough on the phone now that I have a cochlear implant, these other forms of communication are still my own first choice.

Resilience is a Special Kind of Strength

Many readers of Hearing Elmo have various disabilities, invisible illnesses or chronic health problems. For some, those difficulties are progressive and force them into a constant state of evolution. This can actually be healthy. (I see some of you grimacing out there!) Yet progressive illness can produce resilience – the likes of which create a strong and capable individual who can face life’s problems with the confidence earned through experience. Resilience is a special kind of strength. These individuals know that living successfully with progressive health problems is simply adopting an attitude of commencement.

Some people never graduate. They never enter that next stage of life. Even though the past may be painful, they cling to it with a tenacity that may stun family and friends. If they have progressive health problems, they may be stuck in the grief process. The grief process is a PROCESS. In a healthy situation, one moves from one stage to the next, eventually reaching acceptance and a new normal. Even psychologically we can get stuck in the past. Everyone else has moved on, but we have super-glued ourselves to unresolved situations instead of letting go and moving on with our lives (like everyone else has). Living this way yields toxicity to both ourselves and to others. We become “unsafe people”. It can have a negative influence on our relationships, self-esteem, and emotional/mental health. Dr. Seavey addresses how to face the future in a terrific article that can be accessed HERE.

Can you look back and see different points in your own life where commencement took place? Using all you learned in a specific period of your life, you chose to begin the next chapter of your life. May we all view commencement as springboard to usher in a successful, victorious future and not as a monument that designates an END!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

4 thoughts on “Commencement

  1. Denise – Thank you for your poignant post. It is interesting how commencement, usually equated with the end of education, is by definition a beginning. How many of us are facing a commencement in our lives at this very moment? Your words are God-timed.

  2. Thank you Shanna… I believe God has you on the verge of a new beginning by simply being an author willing and talented enough to shed the light on hearing loss in a way the general public can understand and relate to as well. I’m praying God grows your ministry and blesses your writing in ways only He can!

  3. Denise, your eloquent and poignantly worded post brought tears to my eyes. It was as if you were speaking directly to me. I see now that after going through many commencements in my life, I’ve never stopped to realize that they were not ending events, but in fact new beginnings – You touch the lives of so many with your beautiful and always inspiring thoughts. Thank you for sharing, and God Bless you.

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