Eighteen years of life, thirteen years of schooling, and countless evenings of coaching, admonishing, encouraging, lecturing, applauding, tolerating, and loving all led up to a single day that required tremendous coordination and patience to align all the pieces just right for the series finale. Though today felt about three hundred hours long, its unique centerpiece will seem fleeting when viewed in retrospect years from now.
Today was my son’s high school Graduation Day.
Over 860 students were slated to pack into the Indiana Convention Center to stand tall for their accomplishments in front of their loved ones. A big-city graduation this size required a few hours’ worth of morning rehearsal in addition to the evening’s main event. At this same convention center I’ve attended one college graduation, the Super Bowl LXVI NFL Experience, three GenCons, two Star Wars Celebrations, and one International Festival. As you might imagine, this event rated a much higher priority to me, even though seniors in graduation gowns are a weird substitute for sci-fi cosplayers.
My wife and I encouraged him not to take the occasion for granted. A mind-boggling number of things can go wrong in a child’s life. If all the elements hadn’t lined up properly for all these students, the ceremonial space would’ve had a very different appearance. For too many kids — worldwide, nationwide, across town — graduation will never be a fleeting memory, only a fleeting fancy.
The proceedings themselves were shockingly short. They’ve had practice over the decades honing their large-scale bottle-episode parades into a tidy, efficient assembly-line model. Keep the lines tightly contracted, pronounce all names correctly while only leaving two seconds between each, and stop for absolutely nothing. Voila! For me, graduation was a numbing, three-hour ordeal in which 700+ teenagers listened to a series of inspirational speeches that boiled down to either, “We did an awesome thing!” or “Let’s go do awesome things!” then slowly took turns onstage. Here, the speeches were modest and the 800+ were whisked from stage left to stage right, all within seventy-five surprisingly organized minutes.
The largest drawback to the evening was the long distance between the stage and most of the audience. Poor lighting, poorer cameras, and a wish for souvenir photos now now now caused many proud parents to leave their dissatisfying seats behind and sneak closer to wherever they thought was convenient for their photographic needs, despite blocking the view of other parents sitting politely behind them and hoping to see their own kids. We’re fortunate enough to be early in the alphabet and therefore had already had our moment by the time the Wall of Phones had reached maximum density, by which time a fed-up administrator sicced a pair of IPD officers on them with light warnings and stern glances.
I was a little irritated at the time, but to their credit, I can’t fault their excitement level, their determination to capture and preserve this fleeting milestone. Judging by the number of empty seats I noticed in the back, and by the number of lamentable deadbeat-parent stories you can read in any given newspaper, apparently not all parents shared this level of enthusiasm for their kids’ accomplishments. For them, graduation was a fleeting thought quickly dispelled in favor of what mattered more to them.
I’ll admit I misted up a little when the Class of 2013 was introduced and marched into the hall. Despite the lapses in planning, issues in scheduling, and fatigue in our bones that complicated most of the preceding hours, every little bit was worth it to see my son cross the finish line of this fleeting phase in his life before moving on to the next of many phases to come.
I’m a little disappointed the ceremony didn’t conclude with the entire class brandishing weapons at an evil mayor who’s just turned into a giant demon snake, but this’ll do fine.
[Special thanks to the WordPress.com Weekly Photo Challenge for partial narrative inspiration.]