It often begins with tears, the dropping off of a young child at preschool. In the classroom it is the little boy or girl whose tears flow. Later, in the car, it is mom or even dad who cries, the strongest of souls moved to mush at this new beginning. The end, high school graduation, is so far away at that moment as to seem impossible. But as every parent knows, it all goes by so fast.

Kindergarten, even for those hardy preschoolers, wise to the ways of circle time and “clean up, clean up, everybody clean up,” is a bold new adventure. It is the real deal, letters and numbers more common now than eating mud, and even the rowdiest pupil sits up a little straighter and quieter during that first week.

For the next few years, dropoff is still a family affair, parent and child holding hands all the way to the classroom door. And then, somewhere along the way, (can you still remember the day?), the hands separate. Released from the car, the child immediately runs ahead to his friends, never once turning back.

The stage is being set, even though there is still a long way to go.

The alphabet, at first just a mysterious band of rogue letters, sounded out and sung (a lot), becomes a boy or girl curled up in the corner traveling to new lands, a pack of young wizards or vampires as guides. Counting one to ten begets: find y if f(3) = 5x + 20-7.

But school is not just about academics. Sports, theatre, chorus and band, the kids keep performing, becoming themselves, while parents forge friendships riding the pinewood. Not relegated to the backseat, but rather more co-pilots; guiding, checking in, but all the while letting go.

Friendships form and reform, and grade school crushes blossom into full bloom romances. The junior prom is a signal. Tuxedos and long dresses, style and grace, oh my, these kids look so adult.

Senior year is an itchy affair for students. Hurry up and end, I am ready to go right now. Or am I? College, gap-year, straight to work; for the first time the choices are wide open.

And then it happens, the caps and gowns arrive, that tasseled top so oddly askew, regal, though, in its nonchalance.

Come Sunday, graduation day, on stage and in the audience, well, it often ends with tears. The type to be proud of, because everyone is so proud of you.

Congratulations, parents. Congratulations, teachers and education professionals. But most of all, congratulations, graduates.