I’ve recently attended two very different graduation ceremonies: preschool “graduation” for my youngest child, and high school graduation for my oldest niece. The events left me with a few observations to share. You know, I’ve got stuff to say.
But first, can I just have a private moment with any fellow graduates of Wasilla High School, class of 1987? I was one of your graduation speakers, you probably don’t remember, but I was the one you couldn’t see over the podium. Unless they gave me a stool, I don’t remember. I do remember what I wore, the most elegant silk Angora sweater and skirt set, ivory with little pearl beads on the sweater. It was a gift from my grandmother, and I loved it. (And I would pay a million dollars to fit into it today, but that’s a different matter.)
I don‘t remember what I said in my speech, but recent experiences have given me enough emotional flashback to know it was probably awful, insufferable, equal parts perky beyond measure and grandiose predictions about our future. Ugh, and I probably started it with a portentous quote from some famous person I barely recognized from the “Quotes for a Speech” booklet.
Sidebar: Why do young speakers feel the need to start a speech with a quote? It’s unnecessary, clichéd, and generally only distantly related to the subject at hand. Not only that, but a huge percentage of the audience immediately tunes you out for the duration of the Quote from the Important Person and begins wondering how long it will be until they can get a Diet Pepsi. I’m just sayin’. If you are not a young speaker and you still do it, Stop It. Immediately.
Anyhow, Class of ’87, I’m sure you all were busy hoping your silly hat stayed on while you crossed the stage, or whatever, but on behalf of my 18-year-old self, I’m so sorry.
Now, observations from this year’s graduations:
– The silly hats, oh, my. One was carefully sized and stapled construction paper, and the other was cheap polyester, and they were both silly. But tradition! Tradition!
– Flowers for preschool graduation? Far be it from me to deprive anyone of an opportunity to celebrate and love on their kid, but I’m a little concerned here that we are building these kids up so much, over-celebrating the early achievements that we will soon be holding daily graduation ceremonies for the littlest things. “Honey, do you have your tie on yet? I’ll grab the bouquet, it’s time for Tuesday We Put Our Shirt On Graduation!” I’m just a little worried, that’s all….
– But preschoolers all dressed up in paper graduation hats and singing adorable little songs with hand motions while trying their hardest to not smile even though they are really excited when they see you in the audience? A momma can’t help but wipe away a few tears of big, upwelling emotion.
– The clapping. Oh, how I need a clapping storage device, so that in situations of prolonged clapping I could reuse and recycle my enthusiastic clapping from the beginning of the event and share it equally with those deserving it at the end of the event. I love all of you, you cute little preschoolers, but I just don’t want to clap that long, it’s exhausting. Right? And 374 high school students? I’m sorry, there’s just no way.
– Which takes me to Clapping Math and Psychology. I am quite sure there is a mathematical genius out there who if correctly paired with an equally genius psychologist could devise a clear set of equations to measure the clapping and associated cheering for each high school graduate and correctly identify their exact type to within a standard deviation. (Whatever that is, Statistics was my very Enemy in grad school and has been driven from my mind and soul.)
Follow me here, though, I’m on to something. Supportive, enthusiastic, widespread clapping with lots of deep cheering? The class athletes, homecoming royalty, bound for college scholarships. Polite, measured clapping of a barely decent level? The well-respected valedictorian who no one really got to know. Crazed, super-loud cheering for the guy who bounces onto the stage in the wrong direction? His family never thought he’d graduate, none of them ever did, and they are poppin’ a beer in the stands while they holler.
Us? Well, our girl was about number 93, and by that point I’d already done plenty of judging of other’s lack of class and decorum. Didn’t think making a scene like that was really appropriate, you know?
But our girl? She got up and walked across that stage after surviving a near-fatal car accident three years earlier, after struggling with traumatic brain injury ever since, and while living in a medical foster care home. Did all that without her immediate family, which had been torn apart by illness and stupid horrible things grownups did that weren’t her fault even a little bit. So much to my surprise, when they called her name, I threw decorum out the window and screamed and hooted and hollered with the best of them while wiping away hot furious tears of pride, yes I did.
Who knows what Clapping Math and Psychology would do with that.