Sunday, June 23, 2019

Graduation, from a Different Perspective

Over the last twenty years, I’ve been to over 30 college graduation ceremonies, always in some sort of official role.  DeVry had three ceremonies per year, so in those years, the numbers added up fast. Brookdale does two ceremonies back to back on the same day, since the arena can’t handle everybody at once.  I’ve done them indoors and outdoors, in gyms and reception halls and theaters and tents and a hockey rink, with speaking parts and without. One year, at Holyoke, the platform party was attacked by a swarm of bees; if nothing else, it added some suspense to the proceedings.  The ceremonies are always rewarding, but there’s always a vague undercurrent of stress, too -- what if something goes wrong?

On Monday, for the first time since the 90’s, I get to be in the audience at a graduation.  The Boy is graduating high school, and I’m there entirely and only in my role as a parent. Decisions about running the ceremony are entirely up to other people.  TB is actually in the platform party, in his capacity as NHS president, so he’ll get a taste of that. I’ll happily sit in the stands. It will be my first graduation on a football field.

As any seasoned veteran of graduation ceremonies can tell you, it’s fun to watch the parade of shoes as the graduates pass.  You’ll see a remarkable range of choices, just from the shins down. Outdoor graduations can wreak havoc on shoes, though. One year the outdoor graduation came after several days of rain.  The field was still muddy. From direct observation, I’ll just say that mud and ambitiously high heels are not a good mix. Mud doesn’t work well with wheelchairs, either.

I don’t remember noticing messages on mortarboards when I graduated high school, though I was nervous enough that whether I would have noticed is an open question.  Now, at least at TB’s school, the students have to submit their caps for approval on the morning of the ceremony, getting them back just before it starts. That seems a wee bit draconian to me, but there it is.  Mortarboard decoration has become almost expected.

A couple of weeks ago someone I knew in college DMed me on Twitter: “HOLY CRAP! Your kid is eighteen?”  That seemed about right. TB is discovering now what I discovered at his age: graduation isn’t really about the student.  It’s really about the family. We have all three surviving grandparents coming, and The Girl is playing in the band. (“Great.  I get to play “Pomp and Circumstance” over and over and over again…”) It’s a way that the grownups mark the passage of time. We need those markers, because time seems to accelerate just a little bit more each year.  Even Google Photos got into the act, sending me a “15 years ago today” juxtaposition of TB celebrating his 3rd birthday with him celebrating his 18th. The poses are similar. It took me a few minutes to recover from that one.

He has decorated his mortarboard in the UVA colors; he really can’t wait to go.  To him, this is just a moment of getting his hand stamped so he can get on with it.  I’m glad he feels that way. He’s all about the future, and he should be. But I’m also glad he’ll be up on stage, hundreds of feet away, where he won’t be able to see those moments when there’s something in my eye.

Program note: I will be in no emotional shape to write anything for Tuesday, so the blog will be back on Wednesday.