Coming to an End: Graduations and Goodbyes
Saying goodbye is not an easy task for anyone. I admit that I have a very hard time with it. As three more teams graduate this month, there are many fallen faces when I ask them how they feel about ending Unleashed. The responses are always the same; often filled with sadness and a desire to continue. As with so many situations in the program, this time offers an opportunity for the life lesson of saying goodbye and how to do it in a powerful way.
The questions that arise are always related to prolonging the experience, and not wanting to end: “Can we do this again?” “How can we stay involved?” “I want Unleashed 2 and now Unleashed 3!!” As I listen to their pleas, my heart sinks and as much as I would like to give them what they want at that moment, I know there is a great life lesson waiting to be learned as we go through closure together.
It is so important in life to know how to say good bye, and to say it in a powerful way. Over a life time, people will graduate, move, head off to college, leave camp, and start new jobs or look for other opportunities. All of these require gaining closure and being able to move full force ahead. There will be moments over these girls’ lives when they will end relationships that don’t fit, start new ones, fall in and out of love, and even come to terms with more permanent separations caused by illness or death. No matter what the circumstances, providing the girls with tools to develop effective coping strategies and manage the emotions that surface will be skills they can utilized across the span of their lifetime.
The most important aspect of preparing to leave Unleashed is to share our feelings. As tough as it is to be honest and express them aloud, it is so important in termination. Secondly, for each team, before leaving they want to celebrate their experience in Unleashed. For example, Unleashed II at the Lab School decided to create a “Top 10 Moments” board which turned into “Top Moments” because there were so many more than ten. As they recalled their memories of “the funniest”, the “hardest”, the “saddest” and “the best, moments” girls hugged one another, snapped in agreement (what teens do when they agree with what is said), high fived and applauded all the moments they experienced together. Other teams make sure they complete a goal, either individually or collectively. And, there are teams that want to have a celebration of some sort as a closing ceremony, even beyond that of graduation.
I am struck by how each girl, at the end, has the ability to clearly express her feelings and describe her plans for the future. Often I hear, “I will volunteer at my shelter”, “I want to get involved with another group”, “I want to be on an Unleashed advisory council”. There is also much discussion about how to stay connected with their team and the coaches. In fact, the perceived loss of their team as they know it can be painful for the girls, because the sisterhood that develops is very powerful. In preparation for ending, girls and coaches practice a very critical life skill by identifying and expressing emotions and then using these emotions to propel themselves forward to mourn the loss of what has become so important to them.
As Unleashed teams wind down their academic year, I head into summer applying my own words of wisdom that I share with the girls. In doing so, I share the sadness and disappointment of saying good bye to the Spring teams, schools and coaches. At the same time, I celebrate the success of an unbelievable second year. A year in which we expanded the number of teams and schools, increased our puppy rescues to 187, and created strong partnerships with other organizations. As our Board changes and grows we also built strong committees of talented people ready to develop new initiatives and expand our circle of influence. Fall 2012, here we come!