Kids LOVE a good countdown, especially to one’s own graduation. These two pictured above are a long way away from a milestone like the one our seniors counted down with balloons, popping one a day for the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, you strolled in your caps and gowns down through your elementary and middle school and passed kindergarteners swinging on the playground. Time stood still for you as you remembered not too long ago you were right there where they played. Here, they were wowed by your “graduation costume”; they clapped and cheered and some even jumped up and down.
Your day is today, June 9. The actual date is important given the sometimes years in advance vast intensity of counting down. Then you wake up tomorrow, graduated and important feeling, yet you are still wearing the same pajamas, brushing your teeth in the same sink, wondering why you don’t feel remotely different now that the countdown is over. It’s like when we turn 10 or 11 or 12, those super important tween years leading up to adolescence when we expect automatically to feel older– to look older. But we still have a bowl of cereal for breakfast and maybe Mom still asks for the garbage to be taken out like you’re just a regular person. But you are not; you’ve been graduated! The band played “Pomp and Circumstance” and people hugged, parents cried tears of joy and sadness believing life their child officially could now check off “grown up” on the resume of life. There is only a let down because the anticipation and excitement leading up to the “big day” is exhausted by all that graduation embodies, especially answering of the question: So what’s next? Forget about the anxiety or high running emotions caused by the potential of not walking with one’s class if one hasn’t met all of the criterion to participate in the physical graduation; or the complexity of family dynamics and the vision of your future not complementing the one your parents hold for you.
No matter how many years of teaching experience, there comes a day in May when we hear our school band practicing “Pomp and Circumstance” and tears fill my eyes. I love listening to that song play, watching my students file into the gymnasium, even those students whose sole purpose was to increase my blood pressure. On graduation night, in your black pressed gown and donned cap, you are proud, smiling and laughing, on the brink of what comes next– whether that be college, or the armed forces, or the full-time work force. Some of you have weathered your home burning down, the divorce of parents, the death of a parent, the birth of your own child, the ebb and flow of depression, friendships, and your own sometimes questionable decision making, but you are here today.
This year, the practice music caught me off guard as I had just returned from a day spent in New London, CT with very close girlfriends gathered together to celebrate our 20th reunion from Connecticut College. Seriously, I’m not old enough to have been out of college for 20 years. My parents are not old enough to have a daughter out of college 20 years. I’m lucky these dear, old friends pick up right where we left off even if years have passed. This is comforting, but we tell our graduates that friendships change and develop and evolve– or they don’t, but either way is not the end of the world or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Some of our friends married right away after college, so their kids are teenagers or off to college themselves. Mine are in kindergarten and first grade. Still others have just had babies in the last year or trying currently, and I believe all of them are some of the bravest, strongest ladies I know.
Today, in front of my ninth graders, a local lady will receive her high school diploma after finishing some outstanding work that eluded her 50 years ago the first time around. She recently presented a book talk to my class along with discussing the importance of staying in school, as she dropped out shortly before graduating, a mistake she has always regretted. However, she was strong and made do. “Overcoming challenges teaches us to make do,” she shared. My students were so impressed by her because she was very nervous, much like they are when I make them speak in public. Yet, she powered through, persevered, and presented information in such a way these 14 and 15 year olds could relate. She could have been anyone’s grandmother, and our students compassionately listened and made her feel comfortable, safe, and surrounded by goodness.
“Why didn’t she graduate when she was supposed to?” they asked after she had left, nervous that was too personal a question for in person.
I honestly didn’t have the answer, but her words impacted them more than mine had. She is going to surprise her family and friends at her reunion this weekend, and the pride she feels is evident both on her face and in her words.
We will play “Pomp and Circumstance” for her too, thanks to our band teacher, Thom, who found me a good version. Chances are the adults in the room will be in tears, while some of my students will be bewildered by those very same tears and want to leave as quickly as possible. “Why does it matter so much?” they will rumble.
Graduation matters no matter what the age, but it is just one day we’ve worked towards. What matters even more once we’ve arrived is how we spend the days that follow. Best of luck Class of 2017 everywhere, but especially to those graduating from Lin-Wood School today, June 9, whether you are 18 or 68.