Prairie View

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Graduation Commotion

Every year at this season I try to figure out if my emotions need to be kick-started for entry into the graduation celebration spirit, or whether nearly everyone around me ought to be pulling back on the reins to give all the hoopla a rest, or perhaps a dignified burial. Maybe it's partly because this time of year has often been ridiculously busy with end-of-the-school-year activities at the same time that my heart is nearly bursting with the desire to be outside, working in the garden, walking through the pasture or watching migrating birds flit overhead. What I really want to do must all be put on hold, or snatched guiltily in brief intervals, between frenzies, until the graduations are over.

This year we have two graduations coming up in our immediate family. Joel graduates from college and Grant from high school. This is the second time our oldest and youngest have graduated in the same year. The last time it was on the very same evening--from grade school and junior college. Hiromi went to Joel's and I went to Grant's. This time Joel's is the forenoon after Grant's evening graduation, precisely at the same time as the awards assembly at the high school where Grant attends and I teach. To miss Joel's graduation is unthinkable, but to miss the awards assembly is nearly as much so. I guess this is another reason I don't enjoy this interval of time--too many hard decisions, with plenty of regrets to go around.

My whole family seems to suffer from an aversive-to-graduations affliction similar to mine. Our attendance at our own graduations has been a bit spotty. My brother Myron skipped participating in the graduation ceremony when he was awarded his Masters degree. Rental for the cap and gown cost $35.00 and he needed that money to buy gas to get from California to Kansas after school was over. So he tried on the cap and gown, had someone take a picture, and then turned it back in to the school office. During graduation he sat in the audience, heard his name called and his friends' applause, and picked up his degree afterwards.

None of our family made it when Caleb got his Masters (It was awarded in Boston.), but my parents attended the conferring of his PhD in Indiana. I do remember attending Lois's graduation from nurse's training, but I think Carol may have already gone to work in Washington, D.C. when the rest of her college class graduated.

Hiromi didn't have time to attend his graduation from junior college, but he went to the school afterwards to celebrate with his classmates and pick up his degree.

When I graduated from college, Hiromi and I went to a restaurant nearby afterwards to celebrate. The graduation itself was anti-climactic since I had actually finished my course work nearly five months earlier, in December, and I had been a very happy homemaker in the intervening months. Going back for graduation felt too much like one last chore before I was finished at school. If there was any other celebration fuss, I've forgotten it.

Several weeks ago I saw Joel's gown from his junior college graduation on top of a pile destined for donation to the thrift shop. I almost hated to see it there, but I let his decision stand without protest.

I know people at the other end of the "partying" spectrum who have flown halfway across the country to attend a sibling's graduation from grade school. I can't identify at all with this kind of commitment to celebration. Finishing grade school seems to me too nearly on par with learning to brush your teeth every night before you go to bed--the barest permissible attainment for responsible living. It's reasonable service, most appropriately noted by parents and perhaps others who have been significantly involved in the process.

Bucking the celebration trend when it involves one's own children is hard to defend, I've learned. Especially when having reached this point has meant what it means for Joel and Grant this year. Joel has worked full time since he turned 16, and college has fitted in around the edges of that commitment, along with many other worthwhile efforts he has embraced. Grant has struggled greatly in high school, first with an undiagnosed vision problem, and then with a huge distaste for the drudgery of schoolwork. His finishing in time to graduate is still teetering on a knife-edge. For both of them, this graduation milestone will have been hard-earned.

When the "Pomp and Circumstance" dies away, you'll find me in the garden, Grant working on a landscape somewhere, and Joel writing software. We'll be smiling, glad because the bustle of activity has subsided, but, truthfully, also feeling pleasure at the memory of celebrations shared with friends. Especially, we'll be happy for having earned the right to go on to the next step, away from school for a while, but not away from learning. Having this always-learning privilege is something almost good enough to make even a jaded person like me want to celebrate.

But for now, we need the grace of God to survive the long commotion ahead.

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