On Sunday, June 3rd, I had the privilege, pleasure, and the experience of one of the proudest moments in my life…I witnessed my daughter graduate high school – one year early nonetheless!

It was moving.  It was emotional.  It was exceptional.

It was a day she looked forward to, not just because of the February 14th tragedy, but because last summer, she decided she wanted to graduate a year early and be done with school so she could focus on her career.  What an idea and concept.  Back then, I didn’t think she would go through with it.  But it was her choice.  Her decision.  And she did it.

Would I consider it a blessing in disguise?  That’s a tough question to answer.  Here’s why.

On one end of the spectrum, she graduated and will not have to worry about returning to school.  The tragedy still affects many of the students, especially those that will be returning next year, either as seniors, juniors or sophomores.  And for those new, incoming freshmen, they may not have a clue or know what to expect.  And they shouldn’t because despite the tragic event, this was an incident that should not ONLY define Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The school had cemented a legacy prior to this event.  The school had an outstanding staff prior to the event.  The school had great academics, awesome programs and clubs, and a very talented group of kids involved in sports.

I listened during the graduation as Principal Thompson spoke.  He stood proudly, reading off a HUGE list of accomplishments letting the entire audience and students know just how great MSD High School truly is.

Sadly, Marjory Stoneman Douglas will always be remember for February 14th, 2018, much the same way Sandy Hook and Columbine will be.

But not this day.  It wasn’t just about this.  It was more.  And meant much more.

My daughter and I were invited to go to Miami for a radio interview.  We were invited to attend and go live on WLRN 93.1 radio station.  There were two fathers, me and Roberto Munoz, two parents that had children that were incoming freshman, and we spoke about how we coped, what we expect for the future, and were able to address any questions or concerns.  I was very happy to offer any advice, calm any fears, or simply provide the answers to any questions these mothers of future MSD students may have had concerning their own children.   If you’d like to listen the show, you can click here.   It was a very riveting show, including Mr. Munoz’ daughter’s audio diary concerning her feelings and how she coped after the tragedy.  It is very moving, very emotional, and very powerful.

At the end of the day, my daughter is now an MSD alumni…one of which will always be remembered as the year of the largest shooting in school history.

I hate to say it.  I hate how it sounds.  Sometimes it’s tough because when I speak about my daughter and they ask questions and we get around to her being a student at Douglas, the first response is always, “Oh…was she there?  Were you there?  Man, that must have been tough.”

Yes. Yes. And yes.

That is a reality she and I and her mother will always live with, as will so many students and parents, including the parents of the victims – and those who will be sending their kids there as future students.

Some time ago after this happened, she was having a hard time.  I told her to focus and do her best.  She has wanted to be a nurse for a few years now, so I said to her, “Honey, if you are going into nursing, use this as strength if you are ever again faced with tragedy while on duty. You can help calm, help relieve, and if they say anything concerning your inability to empathize, this is your reality.  Use it to comfort them.  I know it’ll work.”

This gave her some perspective and I believe in some way it began to help her.  Not a lot.  But some.

The positive we take out of this is that she finished her year strong.  She completed her workload, she didn’t give up, she received an AMAZING scholarship, she graduated, and in a couple months, she will be off to begin the next chapter of her life as she prepares to start college.

Strong.  It really is an amazingly powerful word.  Whether individually or as a group, it signifies a certain characteristic, a trait that we all look to reach.  I watched 764 STRONG students walk the stage on June 3rd.  I listened to a principal take great pride in all the school has achieved and accomplished and witnessed his strength as he moved forward.  I watched friends and family accept honorary diplomas to honor the fallen victims, as sad and hard as that was to witness, for them and the entire audience.  I witnessed a special guest, Jimmy Fallon, come on stage to provide some comic relief, show support, and give great advice to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduating class of 2018 during the commencement speech.  I listened to the Valedictorian and Salutatorian speeches, both positive and proud, full of laughter and jokes and happiness for the future.  And for the first time in four months, I was able to sit in an arena, and watch a family – all Marjory Stoneman Douglas related – come together to witness this amazing class of 2018 walk the stage and graduate.

I’m proud of my daughter.  I’m proud of these students.  I’m proud that we will forever be linked to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  Despite the trials and tribulations, these kids earned their day.  They earned their moment.  And we will always be MSDStrong!

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