By Jennifer Marquez
You are cordially invited to be baked alive at the hottest time of the day with thousands of others. The parking lot will be so far away it will be in the letter Z section. You will walk and walk in dressy clothes and stuffy shoes to get to the human barbeque where you will be roasted from the outside in by the sun. It is just enough time in the heat to make you feel like fainting. It is not enough time to kill you even though you will be thinking that you wish you were dead instead of sitting here.
There will be no shade trees and if there are they will be nowhere near you. Don’t look like a slouch because I am counting on you, my seat fillers, to be there cheering me on. Forget about bringing a sun umbrella because it will block somebody’s view of the ant-sized people graduating on a stage far, far away. All the ants will be dressed alike but remember I want a photo of myself, so bring a high powered lens to get the money shot, no pressure.
You will be lucky to see me at all, the ant, with the other hundreds milling around but I want to be able to say I had people there. So thank you for attending my graduation.
During the ceremony, you will have to listen to a lot of speeches. You may not be able to understand, comprehend or relate to them but I can guarantee they will be long. Then the ant’s names will be announced slowly, all 100 or 1000 but it will seem like a million ants are graduating. I know you do not know any of the other ants but please do not look at your phone during this time. Oh ,never mind, the sun is so bright you can’t make anything out. Sit there, please.
After it is over, you and the other half-baked guests will meet up with the ants, or you will try. It is like Black Friday at Walmart; there are so many people. Instead of running for sale items they are praying they can go to their air-conditioned cars. You are going to feel like you just came out of a sauna in your business casual clothing that is now sticking to your body like a wetsuit.
So far this half-day ordeal has included: driving, cussing in your head, parking, walking, cussing in your head and being cooked alive to your near death. You must then attend an awkward party where older people sit on one side and younger people on the other. Nobody wants to be there. The host or graduate will barely talk to you, and you will know nobody else. Then at that moment, you swear you will never go to another graduation again unless it is for your own kids — then you will go to their graduation. You most certainly will not invite people you like to such a torturous outing, you tell yourself.
Then you have kids. When your first born gets to preschool, there will be a graduation at the end of the year. You will think this is the most important day of your kid’s life. The school will say it is a promotion, but you will be required to buy a cap, gown, and photos. You will wonder why they do not recycle the gowns from last year’s ceremony, but you are too tired to overthink it. So you go along like everybody else. Plus, you can’t be the jerk parent who says, “Doesn’t this seem like a little too much? Can’t we just have a small party and have the kids talk about what they want to be when they grow up and call it a day? If we start this big so young what will the kids expect next? Will they have limos transporting them to grad parties in 5th grade?” But that seems so far off, and preschool is over, so it’s not your problem.
At the graduation, there are two hundred people for twenty preschoolers. You feel bad that you are the loser who does not have a fan base for your kid. Paparazzi parents rush the stage taking videos with one hand and photos with the other. Giant plastic balloons that kill marine life and presents and flowers and talks of post preschool graduation parties fill the room. You take your kid out to lunch and say never again will I do that again.
So the next year at the end of kindergarten, there is a huge graduation, but they will call it a promotion. You will think this is the most important day of your kid’s life. You are not sure why there is such a fuss since your child will attend the same school next year. But you tell everybody you know that they are invited to participate. You do not say they are seat fillers and do not mention it is in the morning during the week and traffic is hell. You are too busy with crazy hair day, open house, twin day and a school fundraiser even though there was not one event the first three months of school.
You are so tired, but you get a crew to show up. They sit in the hot sun as adults do the blah blah at the podium and one special child speaks, maybe two. You think it would be great to have a student-run graduation since that is what everybody is there for: the children. But that is not your problem, and you are hot. There are cute songs, and your kid gets a marine-life-killing balloon boutique, and you are so pleased with yourself.
Then fifth grade comes, and there is a ceremony, and very stressed teachers tell kids to wear their finest. While you are helping to collect recyclables for Earth Day you overhear somebody talking about a candy lei. You have no idea what that is so you look on Pinterest.
You cannot be the only parent who does not have a candy lei for your child. You tell everybody you know to come to the big day, but the ones who attended the kindergarten graduation are now coincidentally busy. You get one extra body, so you look like you have people, barely. There are candy and money leis around kids’ necks. Some have five or ten leis draped on them, and kids are in tuxedos. A few people accidentally let go of the marine-life-killing balloons, and you watch them float away. You wonder if this isn’t too much, but you tell yourself it is not your problem. A limo pulls up to take a group of kids to grad-party-type events.
Then 8th grade comes, and it is time for another promotion shindig ceremony in a stadium. This time you do not invite anybody. You have gotten smarter over the years, realizing that inviting people means that you owe them back. It is like a ride to the airport: once you ask and get a ride from somebody, then you are on the hook. You can barely sit through your own kid’s ceremonies, let alone some other kids’ that are not your own.
Your spouse does not even attend his advanced degree graduation, so many celebrations. Plus, this is not your only kid, so do the math. You sit there as the ants go on the stage and administrators talk and talk and talk. Marine-life-killing balloons, flowers and money leis are everywhere. You take a photo with your kid and beeline it out of there with him. You take your kid out to eat and tell him he did a great job. You give him some cash and a card that you signed an hour earlier in the car.
Then when your child graduates from high school, you send no announcements and invite nobody. You sit there amongst marine-life-killing balloons and flowers and wonder where the time went. How are you at your child’s fifth graduation already? The first one seemed like just yesterday.
You are so proud of your child, and then you think about the amount of money you need to pay for college. You start to sweat even more. You make too much money for your kid to qualify for most scholarships but not enough to afford tuition. You are in the middle. This is why you do not send graduation announcements to your friends, who are also in the middle. This way none of you have to send each other’s kids money for graduation. You are welcome.
Before you know it, you are at your child’s college graduation. You wonder why you can’t watch it on a live stream from your couch since you are paying $100,000 plus for the tuition. There should be perks, you think. Smart people who run universities can make these things happen, plus, the money. With all the advances in science, technology and everything else surely they can update the graduation ceremony which is still the same as it was in the 12th century. But if there is no live stream, then surely there are spray misters, shuttles and a jumbotron for all that dough.
You will think this is the most important day of your kid’s life. But you will learn that day comes later when you finally pay off their college tuition fifty years after, right before you die. You wonder, isn’t this too much?
About the AuthorJennifer Marquez has worked in social services for over 20 years and has had a local column in San Pedro Today Magazine for nine years. She has written for other publications including L.A. Taco and KCET. She is on Instagram and Twitter both at @jenntmqz.