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Old 09-09-2005, 06:00 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Location: Valley of the Sun
Class 0f '04

A single raindrop struck the windshield as we drove to the high school. By the time we arrived, it had been confirmed that the graduation ceremony would be moved into the Performing Arts Center (a.k.a. school auditorium)

We were down to four most of the time now. Jess and Kyle would be eighteen in a few weeks, and my wife and I and their two younger brothers were braving a storm, and the prospect of being trampled by a crowd three-thousand strong, to share a seminal moment in their lives….their lives, which lately were coinciding with ours less and less.

We all filed in and sat down. From the shadows of our mid-level seats, I watched the tops of the square grad caps, all six-hundred eighty-eight of them. The dark blue and white almost formed a checkerboard pattern. As they talked and fidgeted, it looked like a sea that pulsed with life.

And, somewhere in that giant sea were two individual souls for whom I had the highest hopes.

They suddenly stood for their introduction. The sound of them standing was thunderous, and the crowd actually gasped. They stood, like a mighty army ready to do battle against anything that would threaten to diminish their pure promise. They stood, and I got a sense that maybe the world of the near future would be in good hands.

There were other introductions after that….small-time bureaucrats from the school board and freehold board and city council. Two or three of them spouted gleeful platitudes.

Then, three very bright students, young ladies, spoke. They used the obligatory quotes from the likes of Langston Hughes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Kahlil Gibran. But they had fire inside; they were genuine. So, even when one of them turned the worn out phrase “Carpe diem!” it had life.

An endless procession of students then crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. Jubilant cheers erupted from different pockets of the crowd, as their loved one walked through the spotlight. We were no different, but we got to yell twice.

When the procession finally ended, and all the graduates were again standing poised for battle, they performed that ritual that was thirteen years in the making…they moved the tassels on their caps from left to right.

After a final introduction, those same caps that formed a pulsing sea two-plus hours earlier became a tidal wave, as they were cast domeward in a fit of raucous joy.

We filed out, and waited for Jess and Kyle in the rain. They’d soon be boarding a bus, bound for an all-nighter sponsored by the school. We wanted to see them for just a few moments…they were celebrities that night, and we were the paparazzi bent on taking their photos and slathering praise upon them. After they did finally emerge, the attention seemed like an inconvenience to them. They were patient, but they had plans. We watched them go.

As we drove back, my wife and I remembered the past. On their first day of kindergarten, Jess and Kyle boarded their bus. My wife cried because she couldn’t see their heads in the window. I used to carry Jess in my left arm, and Kyle in my right, like bags of groceries. Time had gone by alarmingly fast. Too fast.

Little milestones came and went without much fanfare….first step, first word, first grade, first place, first car, first kiss…

But this time, it feels like an era has passed. I waited years for it, so I have no plausible excuse for being unprepared.

I am sad that they need me less and less, but proud that they are becoming so independent. I’m apprehensive about their going off into the world, but excited about what they will achieve.

I have no choice but to let go, just a little. Then, a little more. Then, more still…

And, when I see them in passing, I will be sure to tell them I love them, and I’m proud of who they are.
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