Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Graduation is a life passage that is at once mundane and stunning. Schools have graduations for everything, including grade school, which is absurd. Everyone, everywhere, has to have some stupid ceremony. However, when my child is graduating from high school or college, it is special. A short time ago, she was in high school. Now she is a college graduate and an adult. Time flashed by. One year she was a baby toddling around, then suddenly she was a confident, independent young lady.

My daughter’s school wasn’t just any college, but the expensive and private American University, in the District of Columbia. I had poured enormous amounts of tuition into it and to end this money drain was a relief. My hope was that this education would pay off with a good job. The classes were hard and required a lot of effort. She worked a part time job and a few internships while earning a double major. A degree at American University was an impressive accomplishment, let alone cum laude.

I am a sucker for a good graduation ceremony, especially my child’s. The more “Pomp and Circumstance”, the better. Throw in a choir, an orchestra or band, it’s even better. An inspiring speech adds to the atmosphere of joy of when a few hundred students celebrate their release from the tedium of academic life. The boredom of real life is not yet realized.

I am not a person to get emotional or cry, but a graduation is a wonderful mishmash of emotions. Hope, fear, relief, pride, happiness, excitement joy; all mingle. I feel a tug when I see pictures of graduates. I love seeing the NBC news segment on graduations every year. Of course, they edit out the boring parts.
I didn’t know what to expect for this one, but I hoped they would put on a show. In a gym, a stage was set up with a row of fifty international flags and a podium. A large university logo hung in the center.  Rows of chairs lined the gym floor. 

Something good was about to happen. To arrive at this moment of  was exciting. All the sacrifice was about to be rewarded.  The room was filled with the anticipation and happiness of graduates and their families.

I sat in the handicapped section with my ex and his mother. She couldn’t get around well, but she made it a point to attend all of her grandchildren’s graduations. I appreciated her presence, since she was kind to me after the divorce. My own mother passed away seven years ago; too bad she wasn’t around to see this.

My ex’s presence was more disconcerting. I only communicated by e-mail to him in the last two years, so seeing him was surreal. I was married to him for thirty some years, then not. I didn’t really feel anything after being divorced for five years, but putting on a polite facade felt artificial. I had to pretend it didn’t matter that this person had completely up-ended my life. I had to shut off that part of my past and put it away in a compartment.

The graduates entered the room in their robes. I had no idea where Melissa was. They all looked alike except some wore colored sashes for honors or their nationality. Caps were also decorated with messages. My daughter wore a gold rope on her neck for honors. 

A wonderfully loud bagpipe and drum corps paraded into the gym. The rich vibrato shook the air. Bagpipes make everything better. 

The speeches began. They were so-so. The robed school president had a mace, a symbol of authority, which looked  like a severed table leg. I thought, Gandalf the Wizard!  Could he wave his magic mace and make the ceremony go faster?

One student talked about going out of one’s comfort zone. I was impressed that he had learned this at an early age, because mental discomfort was something that had been forced on me when I had desperately tried to avoid it. Sometimes, the universe has other ideas what I should do.  The dignitaries made veiled references about giving money to the school. Like the tuition I had paid over four years wasn’t enough. 

These speakers weren’t nearly as good as at my own high school graduation. My class valedictorian set the standard for speeches. In front of a conservative community of Republicans, he  railed on the government’s handling of the Viet Nam War. No other graduation speeches I  heard since came close to that level of rabble rousing. Definitely out of the parents’ comfort zone. I wanted energy, spirit and inspiration in this ceremony. The speeches fell a little short. They weren’t NBC worthy. If I had to sit through a lengthy ceremony, I wanted to be entertained.  

 Then the students came up the stage to get their “diplomas.” I found out later that they just got a piece of paper and when they came up, they gave the reader a piece of paper with their name. The lady that read the names had occasional problems with pronunciation. They didn’t go in alphabetical order, which made me a little crazy, because I didn’t know when my it was my daughter’s turn nor how long I had to listen to the names of students I didn’t care about .  

Free at last!
As a student’s name was called, the ones with a large contingent of relatives would get loud cheers. It’s too bad Melissa’s many aunts, uncles and cousins weren’t there. They would have made a lot of noise. We were feeble.

After forever, they read her name. I caught a glimpse of her stepping off the stage. She looked happy; I was elated. I frantically tried to take a decent picture with my crappy camera. Another official gave her a business card holder as she stepped down. She walked away and disappeared into the crowd.

Once she left, the ceremony got tedious. Name after name was read of people I didn’t know. Then the bagpiper corp paraded back in and took the stage.All was good again; the end was near.

Awesome Bagpipers.
Beyond the boredom and the excitement is the realization that this is a passage from one phase to the next. School is over and real life is beginning. The future looms and is wide open. My hope is that Melissa will find her passion, and make her way through life’s obstacles without too much heartache. Part of my job as a parent is done, but it will never be over with. She will thrive in part because of me, or in spite of me. Her life is up to her, not me.

The child I raised is ready to fly.

 “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. YOU are the one who will decide where to go.” Dr. Seuss