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Celebrating New Possibilities: Graduation at Open Sky

Open Sky Family Services Team

Graduation at Open Sky is designed to celebrate the culmination of a student’s experience, honor their growth, and reunite families. Open Sky provides a structured, intentional, and thoughtful process to mark this important milestone.  

A Powerful Rite of Passage

Throughout humanity, rites of passage have functioned as an essential tool of individual renewal and cultural cohesion: they often involve leaving the familiar and known—such as a family or community—to go out and learn something new. They support young people by facilitating self-understanding so they may move consciously and confidently into the next stages of their lives. The entire Open Sky experience functions as a rite of passage with graduation serving as the culminating experience that both reunites families and honors the growth that has been achieved.  

The most striking thing for me was how much work goes into creating a supportive community. Seeing the graduation in the team and how deeply the students connect and how supported they are in being themselves and working through their own processes without was amazing.

The Graduation Timeline

Monday Meet & Greet

The graduation experience begins with a meet in greet at the Open Sky office on Monday afternoon. By this point in their wilderness therapy journey, families have had several opportunities to interact with members of Open Sky’s Clinical, Family Services, and Wellness teams through weekly clinical update calls, parent coaching, Wellness Weekend, the Family Pathway class, and Monday night calls.  

The pre-graduation meet and greet is a time for families to connect with members of our team who they might not have otherwise had the chance to meet but are just as important to their Open Sky experience. This includes our Leadership team, field staff, department directors, family care coordinators, and administrative staff. Our team is there to answer any logistical questions parents have as well as put them at ease emotionally. After introductions and a mindfulness exercise to ground the space, families are invited to create and celebrate community as well as reflect on and give feedback about their Open Sky experience. 

This is also a great time for families to connect with other parents who have been walking a similar path. The meet and greet slows parents down, calms their busy minds, and builds connection with one another prior to heading into the field. 

The Open Sky team did a fabulous job with graduation, preparing both students and parents and aiding in our family’s reunion in a compassionate way.

Wednesday Ceremony

On Wednesday morning, parents meet with our team of Transition Mentors to gather and caravan to the field together. Once in the field, families reunite with their children and gain insight into their experience at Open Sky.  

They are immersed in the life their loved one has been living for the past several weeks and meet the team of peers and guides who have been integral to their child’s wilderness therapy journey. Many parents cite meeting their child’s team as their favorite part of the graduation experience, as it allows them to gain perspective on their child’s work, witness the connections they’ve made, and hear about their growth from a different and unique perspective. 

The afternoon culminates in a final graduation ceremony where families practice new communication skills, celebrate their growth, and bring closure to their Open Sky experience. Through this ceremony, students step through a gateway from the wilderness back into their family units and the lives that await them. 

My favorite part was seeing how proud and comfortable my sister was with her experiences. It was incredible to hear what her teammates had to say about her as a person and as a friend, and it really helped me see the growth she made during her time at Open Sky.

Transitioning into Life After Open Sky

The transition out of wilderness therapy can be challenging. Open Sky’s Transition Mentors help ease this process by providing guidance and attention to students and their families in the days immediately following graduation. This includes a personal check-in with each family after the student’s first day post-wilderness.  

Knowing this support is coming puts students’ and parents’ minds at ease because they know they have a touch point in the day or two following graduation. They have time together as a family to see how things go, and if they have any questions or concerns about their transition experience, they can speak to an Open Sky team member about it. 

Following that call, a member of the Open Sky team reaches out within a few weeks to talk about alumni events and alumni phone calls. While the alumni calls aren’t therapeutic in nature, they represent a chance to stay connected to the Open Sky community.  

The integration of family into a student’s wilderness therapy journey is the hallmark of Open Sky’s therapeutic approach. From admissions through graduation and beyond, families are thoughtfully involved in the student’s process. This makes all the difference in a family’s ability to move forward in their healing journey with hope and confidence.  

The graduation ceremony was very powerful. The students and guides were all candid, earnest, and thorough in their discussions. It was an extremely well-facilitated conversation and offered great guidance to our daughter as she transitions out of Open Sky.

To learn about more cornerstone experiences for families at Open Sky, click here.

September 27th, 2022

Open Sky Family Services Team