3:14 pm
Tue May 25, 2004

Spring Traditions

Pomp, circumstance, and cell phones. Ah! The perennial traditions of Spring.

Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Catherine's commentary.]

For some families the month of May brings a rite of passage, for others it delivers a family dream come true, for still others it marks a flat out miracle. From these contexts and so many others, this is the time of year when parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles hike up gymnasium steps to watch their suddenly older teenagers graduate from high school.

The teenagers, dressed in their hot, itchy robes, don?t in any way resemble the moody, dramatic or withdrawn kids they were just a few years, or months, ago. Those aliens who spent endless hours on the phone or online, their conversations lively with their friends and monosyllabic with their parents, have disappeared.

The cocoons have burst, as they do every year, and to the families in the crowd the metamorphosis is miraculous.

The maddening arguments, the confusing silences evaporate in the spotlight of graduation. Many parents reflect on when they took their child to first grade, how she clutched that hand so tightly or let it go and ran ahead when she saw her friend. Parents pull tissues from purses and recite silent prayers of thanks; they harbor regrets, carry guilt, they feel relief wash through them. Most of them marvel at how fast the time really goes.

The teachers and school administrators, on the other hand, walk through the ceremony as well versed as any Broadway company. To them the annual event remains the same--only the faces change. The most seasoned educators note the particular faces of this year?s class. They see the minds they?ve sparked and the dreams they?ve encouraged. They validate for themselves the importance of their work, even if they have to take it on faith that the effort they?ve made with these kids has not been made in vain. Many of the teachers also celebrate in silence the end of another school year and the blessing of another summer break.

The guests of honor, of course, are the graduates themselves, those energy-filled teenagers who, for perhaps the first time ever, feel respected and celebrated by their elders. During the ceremony, though, their thoughts will be more immediate: do these shoes look good with the robe? Will I trip when I walk across the stage?

Still this event marks one of the biggest occasions in their young lives. Even the ones who hated high school can savor the beautiful fact that it is finally over.

For many of the teenagers, graduation is a ceremony whose impact and significance will not sink in until later in their lives, not until after experience has had a chance to widen their perspective. For now graduation is a reason to receive money and to eat cake; it?s also a gateway to the future, the promise of something more. What that something is, most of the graduates can?t know as they sit fumbling with their tassels, passing notes to their friends.

The long-reaching ripple effect of their own high school graduation may not hit them until it is their turn to climb the steep gymnasium steps to watch their suddenly older teenager fidget in a hot, itchy robe of her own.