"One Sunday afternoon in June, you'll walk across a stage and I'll hand you a diploma" the headmaster of our school told us for years. For me, that one Sunday afternoon in June came three years ago. For Laura, it was yesterday.
At my graduation, tears welled up in my eyes but not until I sat down, diploma in hand. I kept a smile, and they never leaked out, but my family in the front row knew exactly what was happening.
For Laura's graduation, the tears appeared as soon as I walked into the gym where I recognized the set and the colored lines on the floor underneath it all. Again, I kept a smile and the water in my eyes but it was like someone hit me upside the head with emotion all of the sudden.
We took our seats in the back row and I fought to regain my composure. Before this one, every graduation we have purchased front row tickets at an auction. This year, my parents were competing with the wealthiest family in our town. She owns a company that probably affects your everyday life. He owns a professional sports team. There was no possible way Dad was winning those tickets. Instead, we took our seats in the back. At first we were worried about photos, but then I pointed to the end of our row: Uncle Greg. Tucked safely under his arm was the expensive camera of this professional photographer. We'd have photos from Laura's one Sunday afternoon in June, that's for sure.
The ceremony began with the graduates lining the aisle to applaud the faculty as they progressed into the seats that faced the audience. The graduates double back and sit in front of the faculty. At the end of the ceremony, the faculty progress out first, lining the aisle to applaud the newest batch of alumni. It's a special moment and a powerful tradition.
A more powerful moment and special tradition is that parents who are on the board or staff of the school are given the opportunity to call their graduate's name. For Laura and I, this meant we received our high school diplomas directly from the hand of our father. For Dad, this means he writes our names on his hand, so he doesn't forget what he's going to say (and then hopes he doesn't sweat it off). A friend's father took a photo of me hugging my father on the stage. It's a photo I cherish. I tried to do the same for Laura and was successful, but it's less than perfect quality.
An equally important photo to me is one of me in my robe with all four of my grandparents standing beside me. Sure, Boppy's sticking out his tongue (he refuses smile for photos, isn't that right, Boppy?), and Grandma's looking the wrong direction. But it's still the five of us, healthy and happy. Even though it's been three years since that one Sunday afternoon in June, that's still my desktop photo on my computer. I was too busy talking to Brian (my favorite advisor) to know if Laura got that same photo, but even if she didn't: we're still some of the lucky ones. Lucky enough to have our parents still married. Lucky enough to have four living grandparents. Lucky enough to have our aunts, uncles, and cousins take time out of their busy schedules to sit through a two-hour graduation ceremony celebrating our achievement. Lucky and blessed beyond belief.
As I looked around at the rest of Laura's graduating class, I realized not everyone was so lucky. Some of them come from broken homes, incomplete homes. One of her classmates lost an older brother a few years ago. Two classmates who graduated from a different school, lost their older brother. The class as a whole hasn't been so lucky either. In eight grade, they lost one of their own to leukemia. Two years ago, a classmate committed suicide.
For some, one Sunday afternoon in June is a day that never comes. For some, it is an end, a goal achieved. For some, it is expected. Either way, it is a milestone and everyone who meets it deserves a pat on the back. A sad ending to the book of high school but a great beginning of the future. For Laura and I, that has meant a move to a small, out-of-state college. For others, it means something else. It is s time to be celebrated (but tears are expected). Godspeed and good luck.
Well done, graduates!
PS: I kind of rambled today... sorry. Thanks for reading!