Graduation Day 2006
While many of you -- not the least of which being both of my sisters and my mother -- may violently disagree, I love the teenage years. I enjoyed being a teenager, enjoyed teaching teenagers. I'm not sure I enjoyed my teens as much as I would if I could do it over again, given the body of knowledge I've accumulated since, but I've got no complaints.
Please get out your sentimentality filters, because your otherwise notably cynical blogger here believes in locker combos, drama club, ham sandwiches on the quad, Friday night football games, teenage romance, signing yearbooks and the Junior prom, and I had to keep myself from shaking the shoulders of each and every high school grad present at today's party for one of our babysitters, a member of St. Ignatius high school's class of 2006 to remind them that Carly Simon was right: these are the good old days.
From my perch in life, teenagers enter and leave mostly as babysitters. When we see them, they are working, they are alone, on their best behavior, and generally loaded down with homework. In short, we see a well-behaved 15% of their overall personalities. Today I was reminded exactly what a group of teens at a party (granted, one with adults present) looks and sounds like.
This was an poised group of teens. Most were BHDS grads, class of 2002, and an unusually large percentage of them were off to impressive colleges in New York. Even at an emotionally stunted 41, it's strange to be at a high school graduation party as one of the faceless adults who come bearing gifts, then melt into the background, unimportant save for our function as caterers. Today we stayed in the shadows, talking about the kids, the guests of honor, and, in our case, the seeming improbability that our own 8-year-old, often volatile Jawa will one day stand poised onstage, holding a sheepskin of his own.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the grads pose for group pictures, hang out on the front steps, mill around drinking non-alcoholic beverages. They were conserving their energy for tonight's grad night activities. As I type this, they are all off on school-sponsored adventures, bussed to some place for casino nights, swimming, all kinds of things designed to hide the fact that this will be the last time they will all be together in this familiar and comfortable way.
I have seen high school graduation from three distinctly different angles. First, I was a graduate myself, duded up in the preppy gear of 1983. I remember being miserable because my girlfriend and I had broken up the week before. Where was the wise adult to tell me that this was "my time?" Instead, I picked my First True Love out of the crowd during the ceremony and stared at her, ignoring the speeches. Then Roger Hunt, Esq. had a party, which I remember mostly for the appearance of our favorite teacher, Jack Burke, his patchwork madras golfing pants and the neat drunken two-step he did down Hunt's front stairs.
Later, when I taught at Blanchet High School, graduation was my favorite and least favorite time of the year. We'd followed these kids for years, and now, as they proudly walked across that stage, I saw each of their lives -- both the real ones and the ones I'd imagined for them -- pass before my eyes. And I realized, in the same horrible moment, that they were leaving, and I was staying behind. Strangely, those graduations, more so than my own, were the ones I wanted to go on forever.
It's asking way too much for kids to be cognizant of what's happening as it happens. Though the grads I saw today were exceptional in every way, I don't expect them to try to stop time tonight as they hang with their friends one more time.
For some, like my sisters and plenty of happy, successful adults I now know, this part of their lives couldn't have ended fast enough. To sentimental fools like me, though, my wish is that all of the kids I saw this afternoon could all take today and tonight, put them in a jar, poke holes in the lid, then put the jar on a shelf, so they can take it down and look at it any time they want.
After the party, Sandra Bullock went to San Jose to have dinner with an old friend. The Jawa and I, newly reconciled and suddenly needing to spend time together, watched a movie and went to Whiz Burger so we could eat dinner outdoors at a picnic table while the Mission flew its eccentrics like a flag all around us. Later, he insisted I lay in bed with him and read, while he fell asleep, as always, with his covers pulled all the way over his head.
There's another graduation experience, one I'm still a few years away form. Personally, I've graduated four times. I'm probably done. And, as I said earlier, I've watched students of my own graduate, kids I've coached, and now, babysitters, children of friends. But I haven't yet stood in the audience and watched my own Jawa graduate, unless you count preschool graduation. Hard to imagine him up there, six feet tall, razor burned from the morning's shave, car keys jingling in his pocket, shutting down his teens on his way to finding his life's path, when a few hours ago he asked me to hold my book in my right hand, so that I could "read closer" to him.
I'm guessing that Jawa graduation may prove to be an experience unique among graduations. I can't wait.