My daughter Emmali [emma ⋅ lee] just finished her spring finals and is now officially a college senior! Seems like only yesterday I woke her so she’d be on time for the last day of high school. I think this letter that I wrote to her three years ago will resonate with other moms and dads who are weepily aware of lots of lasts at home before their children graduate from high school.

My dearest Emmali,

When I flipped on the light to wake you up for school a week ago and told you not to forget that you were sleeping, I saw you grin. We both remembered that day back when you were in the fourth grade and I kept telling you to wake up or we’d be late to school. Finally I told you that if you didn’t get up right away I wouldn’t let you stay overnight with your best friend Becca. You sat up immediately and cried out, “No, Momma, please! I forgot I was sleeping!”

Eight years, hundreds of miles and thousands of wake-ups later I realized that this was the last time I’d get you up for school. This particular morning was the final day of your senior year. Next fall in your dorm room you will have to remember you are sleeping all on your own.

I hope you’ll also remember the bravery you showed that first day of kindergarten when I walked you and your brothers to the elementary school two blocks from our Texas home. You posed with the blue and white eagle mascot, then walked through the front doors with your shoulders held as high as you could get them from the weight of your supply-filled backpack. I took your picture in the eagle’s embrace and also when you sat with your soon-to-be friends outside the door of your classroom. Promising to return at the noon release, I left you, my fearless daughter, and I walked home with tear-filled eyes.

It wasn’t long before you and Becca and Nicole discovered each other and became a trio of best buddies over the next five years. Then, I did the unthinkable and ripped our family’s roots out of the Texas soil, transplanting us in Colorado right before your fifth grade year. I’d taken you from a large suburban school district to a rural one and all of you were sure I’d lost my mind.

But then you met Tyler, Joanna, Kathryn, and, a few years later, Alex. You have since told me that you couldn’t imagine your life without them and others in your small class who are now good friends. Funny how life works that way. Undoubtedly, those unexpected friendships will keep decorating your world as you move from here to there to somewhere else.

That journey gets started all over again tonight when you walk across the stage and take your diploma in hand. Your two older brothers, younger sister, and I will cheer you on, as we always have. You never graduate from that kind of encouragement, that kind of love. Take it with you as you go after all those dreams that you’ve been cultivating during your growing-up days and peace-filled nights, especially the dream that makes you forget you are sleeping sometimes. That’s the one, my Emmali, I’m most anxious to see come true.

A version of this letter was published in the Valley Courier newspaper on May 24, 2013.