Derik Cowan

June 1997

Graduation Dilemmas

As I wrote in my last article, I graduated in May, which was at once a wonderfully empowering and yet frightening experience. When my parents disowned me almost three years ago, they predicted that there would be no way for me to go back to school, much less graduate. Here I am, three school years later, finished and graduating right on schedule in spite of them. I could take the time now to thank the many people who made it possible, but I won't. I've mentioned many of them in previous articles, and I don't want to start writing the same thing over and over.

As graduation approached, however, I found myself facing a dilemma that I had at once dreaded and anticipated. My parents decided that they wanted to come to my graduation. I dreaded this because I knew that if my parents came to my graduation, common courtesy and the very nature of the event would require that I give them part of the spotlight in helping me to this point in my life, and I don't feel that they necessarily deserve this spotlight and wanted instead to make this a special event where I could celebrate my own accomplishments and the friends and surrogate family that made my graduation possible. However, since I do know my parents fairly well, I wasn't surprised when they decided to come up for my graduation, and began preparing for that possibility.

Let me back up a bit. Most of you who have read my articles know that when my parents disowned me after my freshman year in college, they not only cut off their emotional support but also their financial support, which led me to have to find other means for financial support. I turned to friends and fought the institution to gain that support, and I luckily was able to receive it. But the effect of being disowned is more than just financial. Being emotionally cut off from one's roots is very hard on a person. When my parents disowned me, I fell into a rather deep depression that was further aggravated by some of the things I was forced to do in order to survive after I was disowned, and as a result my grades fell precipitously. While I have gotten over the worst of that long ago, I still have spells where I'm completely incapacitated by depression. Not only that, but since I have had to support myself, my academics haven't been able to take the top priority that perhaps they should have, and I wasn't able to take advantage of opportunities over the summer such as interning at a theater that I should have in order to put me in a good position to find a job that I would like in my field of concentration, which is theater and dance.

Nonetheless, since I've been disowned, I've made a great effort to rebuild my life on my own terms, as the person I want to be, a person who is very separate from my family. I've had scant contact with my family, and most of that has been around the death of my grandmother last winter. I'm at a point now where I'm very comfortable with myself. I'm out and vocal about gay issues. I enjoy my ability to express myself and reveal parts of me that I wasn't able to before. I've even begun to reevaluate my spirituality, moving from a point where I couldn't even think about it because spirituality equaled Christianity equaled the main reason my parents disowned me to a point where I can look at my beliefs and say that I do believe in some form of higher powers -- not a god, but something else -- a life force, or perhaps some sort of union that we all partake in. Anyway, I'm moving off topic.

My parents in their explanation of why they wanted to come up for my graduation stressed all the time and money they spent on my education. While it is true that they did spend a great deal on a private education for me from high school on and made a great deal of effort to stress to me the value of my education, I feel that their support basically ended with my high school graduation. Since then, they haven't really supported me, indeed, as I said above, they hindered my education. Many others have helped me through my college years, and this graduation was, in my mind, for them. My address in the graduation notes was changed from my parents' address to my home address here in Amherst, and I took my surrogate parents to the Theatre department reception in place of my birth parents.

I did, however, invite my biological parents to my celebration dinner and spent some time with them around graduation. My father especially has been making some overtures towards peace, and I did want to see them before I took off to San Francisco for the next part of my life.

I think that life moves in sections. Sometimes those sections overlap, and often they influence each other, but they are separate nonetheless. With graduation, perhaps I can put behind me a lot of the pain and anger that I feel towards my parents and move towards a new relationship with them -- one that is on my terms, but one that can again be loving and supportive as opposed to separate and hurtful.

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