Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Graduation Time

For weeks now all across the land they don their robes and four-pointed hats and tassels. And then the march begins, usually to “Pomp and Circumstance.” And they file in, surrounded by family and friends they march down the aisles and take their seats. It’s graduation time. We call it: Commencement—a starting over, a beginning, a kickoff.

But those sitting in those uncomfortable gowns and strange fitting hats know that something is ending. That place and that time. For when they leave there will no more pencils, no more books—no more teacher’s dirty looks. Well--not for a while. They will say goodbye to friends and promise to keep in touch. A few hug teachers and shake hands with Coaches who have shaped their lives in ways they do not yet know.

But whether they know it or not—something may be ending—but something is also beginning. Who knows where they will go and what they will do. Some to the Service where they may find themselves in some trouble spot far away. Some will think of the school they have already been accepted to and wonder about the days ahead. Some, thrust into adulthood, will look for a job, hoping for the brass ring.

Starting over is fun but scary at the same time. But that’s what commencement is. A starting over. I remember the old story about the two mean kids who tried to trick the wisest man in town. They weren’t sure about that. They found a bird and took it with them and knocked on the old man’s door. He came out and one boy said, “We hear you are the wisest man in these parts.” The man chuckled: “Well, I’m not sure about that.” They continued, “If you are so smart we have a riddle for you. We’ve got this bird with us.” They held it out their cupped hands. “Is the bird alive or dead?” If he said the bird was dead they would open their hands and let the bird fly away. If the man said the bird was alive they would squeeze the life out of the bird and show him. “Which is it, old man?” He thought for a minute and said, “Boys, it is whatever you want it to be.” The kids turned and walked away.

The wise old man was right and also wrong. It isn’t really what you want it to be. There are too many hurdles for those graduating. But they all hold in their hands what is yet to be. And though life may throw many of them curves they cannot even envision—so much will depend on what happens after their starting line.

Months ago I bundled up my courage and went to my 60th High School reunion. There must have been maybe twenty-five of us who came. The years had taken its toll. The President of the class, still in charge, made a speech hoping we wouldn’t notice his toupee. Across the room were walkers and a wheel chair or two. Some of the girls that I would have never noticed back in High School were gorgeous. Two of our beauty queens were beauties no more. Most of the men looked old.

 I still remember that night in the gymnasium when we filed in wearing our caps and gowns. I didn’t know it then but the old man in the story was partially wrong. Life isn’t always what we decide—we don’t have total control unfortunately Sixty years later, looking around that room at that handful who had graduated with me—so much had happened to all of us that had been out of their hands. There had been divorces and bouts with depression. Some were battling cancer—and more than one had dragged in an oxygen tank. Some had been prosperous—and some had never left their hometown. But the life we had envisioned had been different for us all.

We were the survivors. But we had made it out of the starting gate, encountering more surprises around that track than we ever imagined. Hurdles and mistakes and stupidities and delights. Yet—there we were—60 years later laughing remembering, holding our glasses high. Having a good time.

So to this year’s Class of 2014 I have no great words of wisdom. But you have a chance to do wonderful things. Maybe what you hold in your hands will never be what you thought—but the challenge is yours. To make it so that sixty years later—walkers or not—your mind will wander back to the old starting gate. You might remember not only once upon a time you wore the cap and gown—but in all that happened after that, good and bad—we call life. Important. Precious. Rare. Wonderful.

Looking back over my shoulder, much of it did not turn out the way I dreamed it might. Despite some disappointments and heartaches—it worked out. And looking back I remember and I am glad. I hope that is what happens to you—Class of 2014. 

(I write this piece in honor of my youngest granddaughter, Libby who graduates from High School in Alpharetta, Georgia this weekend.)

                                         --RogerLovette /

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