It was the best of times and the most revealing of times. It was a time of golden elation and a time of sepia sadness. It was a time of saying hello and a time of shaking hands goodbye. It was a time to peer into the future and a time to not forget about the past. It was a time to think of a lot of rose-colored thoughts and a time to feel a lot of heart-rending emotions. It was a time to attend two very similar and yet two completely different high school graduations.
Graduation from high school is the first fledging steps across the chronological transom into that long- sought and even longer-anticipated goal of becoming an adult. This journey, however, was traversed by two quantitatively and qualitatively different roads, and the differences in those two roads speaks to the political, personal and professional malaise that has come to separate as well as dominate our national conversation.
The first graduation was held in an air-conditioned auditorium festooned with red, white and blue streamers that appeared to come at you from every conceivable angle. The chairs were amply padded, the seat as well as the back, lending an air of serene and solemn comfortability to the impending activities to follow . The parents, families and friends that genteelly but stolidly walked through the doors were sartorially attired, with men in made-to-order suits and women in dresses that were hot off the fashion catwalks.
Graduation commenced with a rouse-the-troops speech by the school principal, a speech adorned and imbued with the witticisms, parables, quotations and metaphors that reflect an erudition of long and deep standing. After a series of brief formalities and introductions of the numerous teachers, administrators and members of the Board of Education that filled the stage from endline to endline, the greatly anticipated awards ceremony commenced.
As befits a high school that proffered 25 Advanced Placement courses, too- numerous- to- count Honors courses and an extracurricular program of theater, dance and championship sports teams that catered to every whim and satisfied every caprice, the width and breadth of talent at hand and accomplishments achieved were overwhelmingly appropriate.
The magic time of dispensing and receiving the diplomas soon followed, with young men in military-style creased pants and young ladies in Mt. Everest high heels ascending the podium and clutching in their hands the paper to which they had devoted their wallets, minds and hearts for the last four years. After the last student had assumed their assigned seat, a decorous applause spontaneously arose from the manicured and metrosexual hands of the still-seated audience that had countenanced a phalanx of speakers and a seemingly endless line of graduates.
The audience of proud parents and grandparents( both maternal and paternal) exited the back doors of the auditorium to a serpentine line of tables that were stocked-to-overflowing with confectionary delights to suit every palette and a coffee, water and soda station that rivaled the local grocery store for style, presentation and variety.
After everyone had exchanged parting pleasantries, they headed to a parking lot filled with automobiles( Mercedes, Jaguars and Cadillacs) that matched the finery that shrouded their bodies and bejewelled their ears, hands, fingers, neck and ankles.
The second graduation was held in a pint-sized auditorium that was held early in the morning to take into account that the only air conditioning available was that which Mother Nature provided through the palm fronds that swayed through the open window and doors.The seats were old, bent and occasionally creaky, with padding a luxury that was given short shrift. The parents, families and friends that made their way to these steel contraptions were dressed in ill-fitting shorts, ripped jeans, open-collared shirts and faded dresses, carrying blue-and-white ballons in honor of each of the five graduates who were already seated on the stage.
The principal( who also wore the hats of the dean-of-students and college counselor) spoke to the audience for no longer than three minutes, speaking in clipped and spartan tones that were reminiscent of an address to the troops before they were to enter battle for the first time. The awards ceremony followed immediately and went very quickly, as this charter high school offered no advance placment courses or honor roll classes and extracurricular activitities were just that- extra and thus nonexistent.
What was missing in academic chic-chic, however, was compensated for and by gales of joyous laughter and resounding/thundering claps that roiled the old auditorium walls and rocked the floor to its nuts-and bolts. As each of the five students stepped forward to accept their diplomas, dressed in clothes that emphasized utility over style, their faces had difficulty containing their ever-expanding smiles.
The audience then exited into a tree- lined courtyard where a graduation cake was carefully parsed out and singular bottles of water were gingerly and generously handed out to all who requested them. After an exchange of goodbyes and a copious amount of shedded tears, graduates and their families dispersed to a parking lot filled with used and second-hand cars, jeeps, trucks and a vintage motorcycle.
What struck and got my attention, however, was a young man who climbed aboard a bicycle that had seen better days and pedalled off the ten miles to a graduation party being held at the house of his best( and only) friend.
As I settled into the arms of Morpheus that evening before bidding adieu to another school year, I played and replayed the two graduations in my mind,and paraphrasing Dicken's, this Tale of Two Graduations ( and mixed metaphors) split at the fork of the road that was not taken( or available) and that made and makes all the difference in the world.