jayellebee's Blog

June 7, 2010

Graduation – To Walk or Not To Walk

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 10:22 pm

     I was introduced to a neighbor’s little granddaughter a few days ago.  Meeting me, a stranger, in the safe haven of Grandma’s yard, this child with her well-developed vocabulary opened up like a tulip on a sunny morning.  In no time at all I learned she had six cats, each with unexpected names like “Pancake.”  As we talked, she studiously licked the residual film out of a flexible container that had been used to freeze apple juice in the shape of hearts.

     I appraised her size and, knowing it’s best to over-estimate such a youngster’s age, said, “I’ll bet you’re about ten.  Am I right?”

     Her brown ringlets wiggled as she shook her head, smiling.  She clearly understood I was teasing and accepted the fun with good grace.

     “I’m five,” she corrected me, holding up the appropriate number of sticky fingers.  “I just flew from pre-school.”

     I took  her to mean she had graduated from pre-school and had the summer ahead to prepare for the rigors of kindergarten.  Since our meeting, the papers and news have been filled with graduation stories.  Some young mortar board bedecked students have listened to famous speakers.  One unfortunate mid-western high school was leveled by a tornado the day before commencement forcing cancellation of its celebration.  Many inspiring sagas of odds overcome have filled the headlines and airwaves.  I suspect all of this year’s graduates and their proud family members will remember something, some detail, good or bad, of these propitious events.  I know I carry such memories with me.

     Our oldest son graduated from the same local, private college as his grandfather, great-uncle, father and uncle.  His class was relatively small, perhaps 400 young people in caps and gowns.  The exciting day in May, fourteen years ago, was hot as Hades, and the field of bleachers offered no shade.  I sweltered in a short, light-colored summer dress and pitied those clad in ankle-length black robes.  The speaker, then poet laureate of Berkeley, was most impressed with her own command of the English language and spent the better part of an hour trying to impress the rest of us.  She droned on and on about drifting down the river of life, or some such rot.  When our son’s name was finally called, he took the opportunity to claim his 15 minutes of fame, sauntering across the stage so slowly the next three graduates lapped him.

     Son Number Two attended a somewhat larger university in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Having pulled a week of all-nighters completing his senior engineering project, he grudgingly agreed to “walk” IF his father would join him for the unofficial but time-honored tradition of Dads and Grads.  A local pub opened at 6:00 a.m. on graduation day each June.  Proud fathers were challenged to keep pace with their hard drinking sons and daughters until it was time to stagger onto campus to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance.  My husband isn’t much of a drinker, especially at six in the morning.  By the time poured himself into the folding chair beside me, he smelled like a still.  Worse, he grinned like a fool at all the girls passing us in their micro-mini skirts.  I doubt either he or our son remembers anything of the sensational speech delivered by Patrick Stewart (think Captain Picard of Star Trek, the Next Generation).  These memories are fun, but don’t call up the emotional response invoked by another from that day.  Our son’s school held a single commencement program for all 1200 graduates.  Students were called forward according to their major, saving the School of Engineering for last.  Within that group, the mechanical engineers – all 30 of them – were dead last.  Of course, by that time the other 1170 holders of B.A. and B.S. degrees, and their families, and their friends were all in major party mode.  Standing up.  Yelling.  Singing.  In short, celebrating so loudly I couldn’t hear OR EVEN SEE my son toss his tassel.   That wasn’t something I’d planned on missing!

     The day we deposited our youngest of three in Santa Barbara, facing the ocean and his freshman year, he explained he would be taking five years to complete his degree.  And if we didn’t like it, well, we could just take him back home with us right then and there.    Two of us got in the car and sped home.  Four-and-one-half years later, the local Holiday Inn opened its reservation hot-line for graduation weekend.   I got through to the front desk after an infuriating 20 minutes of hitting my phone’s redial button and gratefully agreed to pay twice the normal rate for one of the last rooms still available on graduation weekend.   During his fifth and last spring quarter, our son received a letter from the university one day after the last day to add classes.  This official missive informed him the great U of C SB was not amused he wanted to employ one class to fulfill two of his lower division general education requirements.  Therefore, he would not be graduating as planned.  I considered heading south anyway so I could re-sell our reserved room at three or four times the going rate, thereby recouping some of the fifth year tuition expense.  But in the end, I couldn’t face the prospect of watching some other mother going to see (or not see, as the case may be) her son flip his hat in the air.  Eventually, my baby got around to taking that last class and claiming his diploma.  But there was no grand celebration, no inspiring oratory, not even a debilitating hangover.  Only a muted sigh of relief from aging parents.

     I wonder about my new five-year-old friend.  When the time comes, will she walk, or not?  I hope so, for her mother’s sake.  And I also hope Mom has an unobstructed view!

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