Shane’s long-time baby-sitter, Christin, invited us to her graduation ceremony. The invitation, and the opportunity it presented, seemed timely.
Shane will start eighth grade in the fall or, as he puts it, he’ll be the “Big Dog”. So many facets of Shane’s life serve to accentuate the fact that the upcoming school year will be a period of transition, a stepping stone if you will, from one phase of life into another. As high school graduation should be the pinnacle of this next phase, attending the event seemed an opportunity to plant a seed, to secure a goal, to expose him to all the pomp and circumstance afforded scholastic achievement.
He balked only slightly when I insisted he wear dress shoes and the imagined pain of buttoning his button-down was assuaged by the mirror over my shoulder, as a slight jerk of his head almost produced the coveted swish of Justin Bieber hair.
“Hey, Mom! I look kinda good!” He’s a slightly pudgy thirteen-year-old. “Kinda” IS good.
Christin had called earlier in the day. Her words were punctuated by a distinctive “click” as she released long golden curls from the clutches of a steaming curling iron. Her usually swift cadence was enhanced by excitement as she shared ticket information and encouraged early arrival.
We parked at the church next to the high school and walked a down-hill block to the stadium. Shane’s baseball coach met us as we circled the football field.
“Luke’s up there somewhere.”, he shaded his eyes against the burning twilight, searching for his son. “There!”, he pointed.
Shane asked the question with a lift of his eyebrows. I answered with a blink and a nod, and he began a clumsy ascent towards his friend.
We were early. There were plenty of seats to choose from. I headed for an empty metal bench in the center, and as I climbed towards my perch, overheard someone make reference to the fifty-yard-line. It felt out of place
Easing onto a very warm aluminum bench, I was disappointed to realize that the stage had been set up facing the opposite side of the field. They were, apparently, playing to the “home” crowd. A handful of people scurried to and fro around the stage as though assigned a very important task, but no one actually seemed to do anything. A golf cart sped past the bleachers several times. The sun had dipped below the treetops, but left her heat behind.
A group of people wearing black caps and gowns approached the stage area. It took me a minute or so to realize that they were teachers and not really old looking students. Mentally, I chastised myself for the mistake. It’s not as though I’d never attended a graduation before. I’d seen those same caps and gowns at my own graduation.
Of course, my graduation took place downtown, in the air-conditioned comfort of the Municipal Auditorium. And the event was actually a culmination of events that had taken place over the preceding two weeks. Parents feted their children with parties that felt a lot like bridal showers feel today. An assortment of gifts flowed in from my parents friends, many of whom I’d never met. Most sent money, but one relative sent a boxed set of Anais-Anais perfume. I was so impressed! It seemed so…continental! I wonder if it’s still available…
Crimson colored caps and gowns were delivered to the school two weeks before graduation and taken to the music room for fittings. We stood in line with our friends, waiting our turn while sharing our enthusiasm and an occasional joke at the expense of students whose heads measured extra-large. Afterwards, a group of us went out to lunch and, later, to the mall. It didn’t matter that we would be wearing calf-length gowns. The occasion called for a new dress. And shoes, of course.
Something about the prospect of walking down an aisle prompts profuse primping. Not until I married would I again spend so much time in front of a mirror. I emerged from the bedroom I shared with my sister to find my family waiting in the den. My father wore a suit and tie, my sisters, their Easter shoes, and my mother, heels under a skirt that probably hadn’t seen the light of day more than once or twice since she’d owned it. We all piled into Mom’s Vista Cruiser station wagon and headed downtown.
The auditorium was dark except for tiny lights imbedded in the aisle seats. My family went inside while I followed a beckoning, black-shrouded teacher whose job it was to herd graduates backstage.
The noise we made as we assembled ourselves upon the risers behind the curtain seemed deafening. I was sure our parents could hear. The relative darkness only served to accentuate the heavy blanket of expectancy that fueled our collective state of giddiness. Several robed teachers stood in front of the risers alternately moving students who had yet to master the alphabet and threatening rowdy boys by addressing them as “Mister”.
And the music began…daaaa, dadada, daaaa-da, daaaa, dadada, daaaaaah. A nervous silence fell over my class. Even the rowdy boys stood a little taller.
I woke from my reverie to the face of a young father wearing cargo shorts with a baby dangling off one arm. He looked pointedly at the bleacher beneath my feet.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” I turned towards the aisle, allowing him passage. A young African-American man climbed the steps towards me. He wore blue jeans under a t-shirt which exposed carefully cultivated biceps. Very large basketball shoes bloomed beneath his pants. Loosened laces allowed for a protruding tongue. The toddler perched in the crook of his right arm made repeated attempts to dislodge his doo rag.
Behind him, a middle-aged woman in tank top and shorts, pushed a mop of unruly blonde curls from her face as she searched for a bench long enough to contain her similarly clad contingent.
I shifted on the bench that was becoming harder and more uncomfortable by the minute to see that two rows of black robes were filing in towards the stage.
The man sitting next to me leaned in, “Why are some of the kids wearing black robes, while the others are wearing white?” I felt so vindicated…
The presence of a tiny sea-foam-suited woman waving her arms, frantically, in front of a small group of students wielding instruments was the only indication that music was playing. The air around me was filled with the cacophony of mixing voices, frequent laughter, and the occasional baby crying. Suddenly the fifty-yard-line comment seemed less inappropriate.
This time I leaned in. “Are these people just going to talk through the entire ceremony? It’s bad enough we can’t see. We aren’t going to be able to hear either?”
My position granted me a line of sight though which I could see Shane. His eyes were focused as he sat immobile save for his thumbs, which danced rapidly over the controls of Luke’s Gameboy.
Four rows down, a slightly overweight, middle-aged man sat in a suit and tie. His hands folded and unfolded a program as he surveyed the crowd.