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Kelsea (and Uber-Cool Will) graduated from eighth grade last week.
This was a big deal, much bigger than I had thought.
There was no graduation from eighth grade for me. Not that I didn’t, mind you, just that they didn’t celebrate such things. I was in a Pre-K through 12 school, so for us, it was just the end of another year. The big difference was that we moved to the Upper School campus in 9th grade, but otherwise? Meh.
So I was approaching Kelsea’s end of eighth grade as I had approached my own – just the gateway to another summer. I had no idea how wrong I was. I’m still unsure if it’s a big deal because she’s going to a different school – high school – or if it’s a big deal because times have changed and we now feel the need to make a big deal out of everything that our kids do as a part of being human and semi-adult, from coming in last in a competition to helping a duck across the street.
But a big deal it was, and I was proud to be a part of it. All the girls in her class dressed up. As you’ve probably been able to tell from my talking about Kelsea, she’s about as far from a girly-girl as Abe Lincoln is from Diana Ross. So when she told me she wanted to wear a dress for graduation, I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t. And she didn’t just wear a nice short-skirted party dress like every other eighth-grade girl. If she was going to wear a dress, she said, she wanted to do it her own way and make a statement. Thankfully the statement wasn’t this:
No, she wanted to express her own sense of style. So she wore a floor length dress, and her long hair down, and she looked gorgeous. And she only tripped on it once on her two trips up to the platform (that would be her dress, not her hair).
The continuation ceremony was looong - almost two hours. There were the requisite number of inspirational speeches about “what school has meant to me” and “taking the next step into the journey towards adulthood”. One excellent student speaker told an embarrassing story about her mom from when she was in high school. I surely hope she discussed this with her mom beforehand, otherwise the poor woman no doubt wished she could sink into the floor.
One of the 90 students in Kelsea’s graduating class had succumbed to cancer shortly after the beginning of the year. The staff acknowledged her and her parents who were in the audience, and that brought tears to my eyes. They acknowledged all the veterans among the parents, which I thought was a nice touch. And at diploma time, when the principal said to hold applause until each row had received their sheepskin (or cardboard, as sheep are scarce these days), we were a poor audience and refused to do so, but came to an unspoken compromise by making a coordinated single clap for each student, with a more robust chatter of applause after each row. I thought it was hysterical, but I would get distracted, and clap off beat, which was rather awkward.
Kelsea had straight As, so she was on the President’s Honor Roll, which included a certificate signed by Barak Obama. She and I both wanted to wet the ink to see if it was a genuine signature, but we resisted. My niece, who works in the governor’s office, also gave her a personal letter from the Governor, congratulating her on her achievements – that one really was a genuine signature.
And as for Kelsea, she is so relieved to be out of middle school that she said she almost wishes summer was over – she’s that eager to start high school. I hope it lives up to her expectations. She used to love school (in elementary school) and she just loathed middle school, even though she did well. But for now, she just wants to sleep as late as she feels like sleeping. I, for one, will let her do so – though I may be the only one who will let her do so.
I am so proud of my lovely girl. Watching her cross the stage with poise and joyfulness was a wonderful experience.
So I guess it is a big deal after all.
My niece graduated from college yesterday. It is a strange feeling to see someone whom you held in your arms when she was only hours old make this giant step into the world of adulthood. It makes you feel your own age most acutely. Especially since she is graduating from the same university from which I graduated 26 years ago.
Watching her ceremony made me remember my own graduation day, which had its tribulations and triumphs. Of course, hers did as well. It was held in an intimate outdoor amphitheatre, which, weather-wise, is a fairly safe bet in Colorado in May. But this year, our weather has been exceptional – cold and rainy even now, when usually we’re basking in the 80s. Sure enough, just before the ceremony started, so did the chilly rain, pouring down necks and backs in rivers. The family had been smart enough to bring a few umbrellas to loan out. Kelsea, in her ongoing efforts to acclimate to the climate of Wales and Ireland, just decided to get wet, until someone forced a makeshift rain hat on her head, constructed out of plastic that formerly covered an orchid corsage.
The speakers were unable to have microphones due to the rain, and it was hard to hear them over the thump of raindrops on dozens of umbrellas. While most students dressed for the occasion, I was amazed to see some in untucked T-Shirts, baseball caps and ratty blue jeans. I’d think the event called for a bit more effort. And some of the skirts were so short that they came all the way up to the “zatch”, as my Mother used to say. I kept waiting for someone to turn an ankle in their 3- and 4-inch heels as they negotiated the stairs, the stage and the stairs.
The Director of Student Services hugged every single graduate, which was a nice touch, but had I been her, I wouldn’t have been chewing gum the entire time. I guess propriety is dead and buried in an unmarked roadside grave.
Walking back through campus to the truck, I felt myself 21 again. I have spent so much time on college campuses in my life that they feel like home. Since I always worked so much in my junior and senior years, I didn’t spend any time just hanging out in the quad – I don’t think I ever lay on the grass in the sun and studied.
So my memories of my time on this particular campus are thin and few. I regret that. I wish I had embraced the college culture more. But I didn’t have the time to play. I just had time to work and to study. Until now, that’s about all I’ve ever had time to do. Now, I have a chance to embrace life. Just like my niece does. In our own ways, we’re both starting new chapters in our lives.