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Eyes up, heart open

Carla Ten Eyck

Classical Magnet High School Graduation

During or after each event that I get to photograph, I am often filled with… all of the feelings. Weddings bring up their own mixed bag of emotions; the ‘start’ of a life with the person you choose to theoretically spend the rest of your life together with is a huge day; babies just being brought into this world fresh and new; generational sessions where there are many levels of family members all still alive, together. And then there is high school graduation. Now, I don’t photograph graduations for work- at least I haven’t yet. Tonights graduation was my niece Sophia’s graduation, and I left feeling all of the things.

Sophia is such a special young woman. Filled with empathy that flows above and beyond what an 18 year old should bear, Sophia’s heart is always overflowing for others. She is so freaking smart, and headed to American University in Washington DC this fall to study something in the local justice area of the world, perhaps. Beyond that, my favorite thing about Sophia is her ability to just be herself around me and Georgie and Jack. She can laugh and be awkward and silly, then deep dive into serious conversations with us. One of my favorite memories recently with Sophia is a late night talk we had with her Aunt, my cousin Stephanie about her recent job situation in San Francisco. Stephanie had us so wrapped up in her story and Sophia and I both cried our eyes out listening to her. That night we felt like equals, Sophia no longer ‘just’ a high school student. Her empathy and heart glowed bright and fierce that night and after they both left I was filled with empathy and love for them both. To say that I am excited about what Sophia will do with her life is an understatement; she will change the world, one person at a time or many, it doesn’t matter. I am honored to know her and even more excited to be related to her!

Tonight  was also my ‘sons’ graduation. My Danny Campbell and my Luis Molina. My basketball boys. They both hold such special places in my hearts, I am crying as I sit here and think about this past year and how close they were with us all. During our many snow storms we would inevitably have a sleepover and would hang out and talk, cook, sing and do face masks together. While they were technically Jackson’s friends they always included GG, who loved them just as much as Jack and I did. If she had friends over they included them too; they were all kind and inclusive and respectful, and it made my heart so full and happy to watch.

I would sit these boys around the island in my kitchen while I cooked for them and grill them on life, then patiently wait for their answers. Phones were banned and put away so that they could focus and learn to have real, honest and meaningful conversations. They made eye contact, and I taught (am STILL teaching ) them how to properly hug and listen and remember the details of each others lives.

In our society so often we raise our boys one way and forget to teach them these valuable lessons in life, and I was just driving the point home every time they came over. They KNEW to put their phones away and be present, and I loved that. I hope they continue to do this while at school, and make some lasting and important friendships as a result.

Danny and Luis: I am so proud of the young men you are both becoming. I am so proud of how far you have both come as kind and respectful humans. I love your skills at basketball, believe me, but please know that this is not all there is to either of you. I am so thankful for how kind you were to my Jackson, my heart. You both changed his life in ways that are so deep and real. One day when you are parents and you see someone show your kid a kindness like this, you will get it, your heart will swell and you will truly understand how much I love and appreciate you both.

My graduation advice to you all:

Make eye contact when you talk to someone.

Shake hands firmly. No limp fish BS hand shakes.

Hug properly. (TBD for you Danny!)

Ask tons of questions. This is important. At class, at work, at a party. When in doubt, ask. If you can’t think of what to talk about, ask someone about themselves.

Trust your gut. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS.  It is never, ever wrong.

Know in life, you are never alone. If you are feeling overwhelmed or nervous or scared or lonely, know that most people feel that way too.

If you are at a party or event and you see someone walk in the door alone, greet them! Even if it’s a ‘Welcome to Moe’s!’ shout across the room it makes people feel welcome and less nervous. No one likes walking into a place alone. NO ONE.

Most importantly: when giving someone a high-five always look at their elbow and you will. NEVER. MISS. ELBOWS!

Happiest of Graduation Days, the world is yours, now CARPE DIEM!

I LOVE YOU GUYS!! XOXOXOX

bear with me, I needed to take a little visual stroll down memory lane here…

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