Oliver: Some ‘senior’ thoughts from a proud aunt

My youngest niece, Gabriella, recently graduated from high school. 

I feel old just writing that. 

She was a baby when I married my husband, and the wedding-album pictures show a cherub-faced little girl in her father’s arms.

She was about 8 years old for our now-infamous Woodfield Mall trip, where I had my first and only encounter with the Build-A-Bear and Club Libby Lu stores. Somehow we all survived, all the more surprising because Gabriella had failed to mention her lactose intolerance after ordering a broccoli cheese soup for lunch. The subsequent stomach pains added a touch of melodrama to the day. (And also reaffirmed that perhaps I wasn’t cut out for motherhood.)

In later years, our back-to-school shopping expeditions became a highlight each fall. We’d bond over discussions of fashion and music and whatever else was on our minds.

I’d always try to sneak in a little Aunt Joan advice, figuring that one more positive role model in her life couldn’t be a bad thing.

We also had, for a few years at least, a tradition of playing mini-golf at the Woodstock Public Library each spring during the library’s Mini-Links Golf Outing. That lasted even after my brother’s family moved to Indiana. 

Unfortunately, as the pull of high school activities grew, many of our traditions were relegated to fond memories.

No doubt even more changes are on the way as Gabriella embarks on yet another chapter of her life. 

So she’ll just have to forgive me if I try to sneak in a bit more Aunt Joan advice for her and for the rest of the graduating Class of 2013 while I still can.

• • •

Congratulations on your accomplishments.

As you set off into the “real world,” some people will tell you to follow your heart. Just remember that it can be dangerous. It tells you what you want, but it won’t always tell you what’s best for you.

So don’t forget to use your head. Think things through. Weigh all sides. Look at the short-term and long-term consequences – to yourself and those around you – of any path you are considering.

Remember that words matter. Choose your words carefully and purposefully. Far better to say nothing than to say something you’ll regret.

Doing the right thing often will take courage. So be courageous, and you’ll like the person reflected in the mirror.

Treat others in the way that you want to be treated – kindly, respectfully and with dignity.

When in doubt, do the loving thing, the kind thing, the compassionate thing. It rarely is the wrong thing.

Resist the urge to burn bridges. You never know when you’ll need to travel that way again.

The high road offers the best view of the world. May you always travel there.

And in your travels, know that you will always have a cheering section right here. Or, if needed, a shoulder to cry on.

Here’s hoping, however, that all your life lessons are gentle ones.

I’m proud of you, Gabriella. Keep being fabulous, and I know you will go far.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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