Graduation, Sort Of.


“Where’s the tassel? I’m missing the tassel!”

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was sitting through my high school graduation, way back in the late spring of, gulp, 1977.  My graduating class numbered all of about 200, as we sat in folding chairs in the middle of the football field that evening in late May or early June.  I can’t remember what month it actually occurred, to tell you the truth.

But to give you an idea of the zeal and academic purity of my youth, I had actively shunned as a high school senior several full athletic scholarships that would have paid my way through at least one top tier institution and multiple other institutions of more questionable standing.  Instead of those full rides offered, I was able to snag a merit award of approximately $100 a semester at the specific big school I wanted to attend.  In the end, I even had to turn that one down, too, as I really only could afford community college right out of the high school gate.

On the positive side in this regard, I can happily report that today, many of my tendons and ligaments are mostly undamaged, and I can walk and run relatively pain-free most days.  I don’t think that would have been the case if I had pursued college athletics.

At least that’s what I tell myself now. . . .

And though I finished very near the top of my high school class in terms of grades, it wasn’t nearly enough to warrant serious attention from anyone remotely associated with an institution known for post-secondary excellence.

So there I sat, rather dismally watching the parade of my peers (though I didn’t consider them as such, really) walk by to receive their full and partial scholarships, while I settled for a now-bruised, haughty idealistic perch that would eventually translate into many minimalistic weekend meals when I eventually made it to my four-year school.  Those Saturdays and Sundays in the future were frequently punctuated by collecting bottles (glass ones; not plastic) around campus to redeem for deposits (food money) as well as by other degrading necessary financial activities I won’t go into here.

It was a life.

But I do take solace in the memory of the speech given by our class valedictorian on that long ago evening.  He was not a bad guy, I suppose, and I never even knew he was the cream of the crop in terms of grades, but his address that evening — wow.  It started off weird and went downhill from there.

One thing I am certain of is that I cannot remember a single thing that he said.  Maybe that’s because what was unique, after all, was not what he said, but how he said it.

At first we all thought he was simply nervous.  He stuttered and rambled and warbled and intoned in the most whacked out of ways.

We sniggered and looked at one another, but as he carried on, it became clear (at least to many of us) that whatever was going on up on the dais was more than simple anxiety.

I mean this dude never sounded like this.  Ever.

Eventually I think most of us there witnessing the spectacle came to the conclusion he was sloshed or high or both, as well as frightened out of his gourd.

These things happen, I supposed, but what did I care?  He was on a full ride somewhere, so screw him I mentally wished him good luck and was thankful it was him up there and not me.

The rest is history.  I know where I wound up (here), but I don’t have a freaking clue where he is now.

I bring all this admittedly ancient history (and histrionics) up because today I had the opportunity to attend the college, not high school, graduation of one of my co-workers.  He has been attending one of those schools that specialize in catering to working adults, and I personally know that this guy has killed himself to complete his studies over the past three years. *

*Note to Daughter:  It is possible to complete your studies.

And as I took my place this afternoon on a hard metal folding chair among many friends and family members in a room that was not exactly an auditorium and a little too hot, the unfolding scene around me was like a bad circus.  The pianist who was providing prelude music played a little too long for the liking of the Dean, who looked over to her multiple times to try to get her to wrap it up, which she eventually did.

The Dean himself was Sikh, I think, as he wore a turban and looked like a Sikh.  He had a teleprompter, which for this occasion, which was akin to bringing a refrigerator on a picnic, instead of a cooler.  And he still stumbled through his (thankfully) brief remarks.

Then the procession of the graduates began, and they were accompanied by recorded music.  I can’t be 100% sure, but I swear it was exactly the same recording that was used at Daughter’s graduation a few years back.  After the students had dutifully filed in, one of the school officials popped up and fiddled with some equipment and the music abruptly halted mid-stream.

Perfect and, yet, appropriate.

As I scanned both the graduates and the audience, I realized it was a very diverse crowd.  In attendance were all shapes, sizes, colors, and clothes.  The only similarity was that everyone was both proud and happy, and they all had iPhones (except for me, of course).

There was a bit of confusion when the diplomas were being handed out, as the founder of the school who had been released from the nursing home for the afternoon actually draped the graduation stoles (google it) over those so honored.  The problem was that, being 95 years old or so, he couldn’t reach up to put the darn things around the students’ necks.  So the graduates had to genuflect (I really wanted to use that word today) directly in front of him so that he could kind of lean over and drop it on them.  Unfortunately, rather than ending up around their necks, the stoles frequently wound up around their mouths, and another faculty official had to jump in with each student and straighten out the entire affair.

It was entertaining, if not a little awkward.

The entire ceremony only lasted about 40 minutes, and then the assemblage adjourned to the adjoining cafeteria for a reception.  I begged off at that point, but not without wishing my colleague congratulations and complimenting him on not wearing his graduation cap like a yamaka.

For a little over an hour, then, I was presented with a reminder of the journey continues for many of us.  The emotions and pride in that room today were real, even if the degrees conferred don’t exactly rank up there with Stanford and the Ivy League.

And it seemed to me the ceremony was more about focus and dedication, rather than the end product itself which in many respects is how it should be.

It was a good lesson and reminder for me that, once again, Hope Springs Eternal, and there are a lot of more important things to worry about than work, money, classic Alfa Romeos, and the NBA playoffs.

Well, maybe not Alfas.

- Dad

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