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It’s All About You Graduates

It’s All About You Graduates

Last week was filled with the sights and sounds of high school graduations across Southwest Florida.  In the week leading up to the celebrations and throughout the big weekend I knew I wanted to write this weeks column on the pomp and circumstance but was waiting for just the right story to share.

I felt invested in this year’s graduating class, which seemed odd since no one in my family was graduating, not even a distant relative.  But even without a direct connection I found myself perusing the media stories and photo galleries surrounding all things graduation.  My husband questioned why I wanted to pull up along side a car when I spotted a driver in a cap and gown.  I wanted to honk, wave and give a thumbs up to the student but my wiser other half suggested that might not be well received by a perfect stranger.

Clearly I was searching for a way to connect to this graduation season rather than just sitting on the sidelines.  I really couldn’t figure out why I was feeling this way until I received a text from the soon to be graduate I mentored this year through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s FutureMakers initiative.  FutureMakers helps launch local high school seniors to their next step after graduation.  Not only was I connected to the student I mentored this year, but I felt a connection to all of the 2,500 FutureMakers seniors that were graduating.

Most of these students I have never met, but throughout the school year I have heard their stories told through their mentors and the program partners who are doing the boots on the ground work of connecting them to financial aid, scholarships, career training and job placements.  Even if I didn’t know them individually, I did feel like we had been on a journey together.  They had done all the heavy lifting and I was proud of them.  My obsession with graduation was really born from my desire to tell them all how much I believed in them.

The text I received was a very generous invitation from my mentee to drop by her graduation party last Saturday night.  She said I shouldn’t feel obligated to come by, but little did she know I was searching for just this kind of opportunity and I jumped at the chance.

Once I arrived her close friends and family greeted me. They were all warm and welcoming and they were watching a video of the graduate’s life on the television.  It was lovely to be included in this graduation moment but I realized quickly that my stay at the party should be fleeting and I made my exit.

I had played a very small role in the graduate’s life, and it felt good to be included but the day was about her and this wonderful milestone.  She was surrounded by the people that had been with her all the way through and this moment was reserved for them to share together.

I had been coaching and cheering for her and the other FutureMakers high school seniors all year long, but I had come to the game in the fourth quarter.  I was searching for a way to celebrate a year or a milestone, but the graduates and their families were celebrating a lifetime that brought them to this day.

Next year, I will mentor another high school senior, and the FutureMakers class will grow as we continue to encourage and support the next generation of Southwest Florida.  I will be all in on the final stretch of helping them reach their high school goals, but when graduation rolls around I will take my seat on the sidelines and cheer away.

If you would like to mentor a high school senior next year, I would love to hear from you at [email protected]


The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Collier counties since 1976. With assets over $75 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at


Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More