Tonight is our high school graduation. Though I will not be attending this year, I am thinking of those students and their families. My kids have already reached this milestone. I know some who are walking tonight and others who will join them as alumni in the years to come.
Four times I have sat in the high school bleachers, waiting for my child to process in with his or her classmates. I have looked through the graduation program, recognizing names from kindergarten, from scouts, from sports teams. I have noted some accomplishments I had previously been unaware of, noticed what schools they planned to attend in the fall. Each time I have been struck with how fast the time goes. Each time I have had too much time to sit and think about this, waiting for the event to begin. Remembering the past, pondering the future.
Four times I have hidden behind sunglasses, hoping no one sees the tears forming when the band starts playing, even before my child steps on the field. Trying hard to hold in the sob that inevitably comes. Blinking back the thoughts of these children that I have watched grow up. I see not only my child, but all of them, on field trips, in the classroom, at birthday parties, on the baseball/soccer field/basketball court. I see young men and women striding across the football field, strong and confident. I see them years younger, stopping, hunched over, dramatically panting – the field is too big, they are tired, it’s time for a break. I see young men and ladies singing in the choir, playing in the band. I see them a foot or two shorter, on another stage, finding their spot to stand on the risers, preparing to sing, or walking around instruments larger than themselves, to their seats, getting ready to play. I see them this day, confidently walking onto the stage and accepting their diplomas. I see them walking onstage, from the wings, as awkward middle schoolers ready to recite their lines, looking at their feet, counting the steps to the dance they practiced for hours in preparation for the big night.
Four times I have listened to principals, school board directors and other speakers talk about the accomplishments of the class, telling these new graduates they are special, that they have done their school, their families, their community proud. In some cases, I have known these speakers personally and their words seemed directed at my kids. I will miss their presence in my life and their influence on my child’s.
Four times I have listened to the Valedictorian speeches, several of which have been given by children I knew. Friends of my children, some of whom spent a considerable number of hours at our home. Each time I have been astounded at the wisdom coming from ones so young, with most of their lives still ahead of them. I have been impressed with the people they have become, these children who not so long ago played in the dirt, climbed around the playground and sassed their elders.
Four times I have joined hundreds of other parents on the field, after the ceremony, hunting for my child. To hug, to congratulate, to pose for pictures. To see the smirk as they see me wipe my eyes, for obviously not the first time that night. Then they are off, to see their friends and certain teachers. To hug, to pose for pictures, to say goodbye. I too search for friends, congratulate them on their child’s achievement, and sometimes say goodbye. I seek out those classmates of my children who had also joined my “family,” knowing that this too, was often a goodbye. I wouldn’t be seeing them regularly anymore, in my home or participating in an out-of-school activity. They too were leaving, off to make the world a better place.
My youngest graduated last year, and soon the last of the children who touched my life will be walking across that football field, to the teachers and administrators who guided them in their journey. They will hand these soon to be adults the precious folder, their ticket to their future. Then these children, too, will move on, hopefully to bigger and better things. And me, I will be getting ready for the next graduation, from college, hiding behind my sunglasses, trying to not think about the kindergarten days.