My son graduates today. On the outside, I’m happy. On the inside, I can’t breathe.

He’s ready to put on the cap and gown and head to the arena. There will be the usual platitudes by administration, some of whom don’t even know my son. One of his classmates, a good friend of ours, will address her fellow graduates with a speech she has been practicing for weeks. Then one by one, the names will be called and the students will walk across the stage, shake the appropriate hands, and try not to fall down the steps on their way back to their seats. Some will turn to the crowd and give a wave or do a dance, while others will walk like they hope nobody is watching. Thomas will walk like he doesn’t care—that’s his style. His name will be called early. It goes with being an Anderson.

Our experience is nearly universal. If you have kids, you have experienced this moment or are about to, maybe multiple times. This is our third and youngest son. I might shed a tear. We’ll take a lot of pictures. We’ll hug his friends and jokingly congratulate other parents for the fact that their children, like ours, avoided getting kicked out. It will be a feel-good day.

I know it’s not that big of a deal. Most people graduate from high school these days. Heck, kids can get enough credits in three years if they want to. Truthfully, Thomas didn’t even work that hard for his diploma. He’s smart. He sailed through advanced math and creative writing without too much effort. He did well on the SATs and got accepted into the college of his choice. But he also took Team Sports six times. He received the Physical Education Award as a result. I don’t know which he is more proud of—the award--or the fact that he somehow convinced the guidance office to allow him to spend half his high school career playing pickleball. I guess he’s clever, too.

Despite his less-than-rigorous schedule, he's had a stellar senior year. He was named FCA Athlete of the year for his school. He finished fourth in the county in tennis. He won a contest they call “Mr. Walkersville” with a rousing parody of Adele’s “Hello,” with lyrics about his high school experience as if he was calling the office from college. “Hello. (pause) It’s Tom,” it began. The crowd loved it. The judges did, too.

Looking back at Thomas’ high school days, and those of his brothers, we are really grateful. We have hundreds of great memories of ball games and tennis matches and concerts and relationships built and boys' friends trooping through our house and wonderful celebrations of our little community. We love it here, and we are glad we made this our home. I don’t know that I’d change a thing.

Except maybe to start again, because part of me can’t process how quickly the time has gone. Jon, Tim, and Tom—little boys when we moved here, have all graduated and are moving forward. They drive. They shave. They have lives separate from our family’s life. Tomorrow I will wake up to the reality that we no longer have a child in high school. We never will again. All the activities and sense of belonging that being associated with our schools brought us for so many years are over. It’s hard to get my mind around it. If I think about it too long, it sucks the air from my lungs, like a hammer to the chest. I feel like one of those plastic storage bags where you suck out the air to squeeze it into nothingness so you can store it in the attic. Yes, it’s like that. Maybe you understand. I will miss my boys, and the many ripples of life that have swirled around them.

So in a few minutes, I’ll be smiling, waving and hugging. I’ll be snapping pictures and shaking hands, while also holding my wife’s hand like my life depends on it.

And trying hard to breathe.