Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Class of 2007

Yesterday, on the hottest day of the year to date (87° F), a few thousand friends, family and staff crammed the un-airconditioned PE Center at the college to watch the 33rd commencement ceremonies for one of the two local high schools. The significance, you ask? To watch the second of my nieces graduate. She's on the left in this picture:

I have gone to my share of high school graduations in my lifetime. I can write out all the instrumental parts to "Pomp & Circumstance" from memory. There are certain things that you find in every commencement ceremony (though, now that I think about it, there wasn't any sort of benediction...). What I discovered yesterday is that I really enjoy the whole process. Even though I only knew my niece, and maybe 2-3 others, I was struck by the whole unabashed naïveté of the entire graduating class. The attitude that they were going to conquer the world that we, their elders, had left on there doorstep. These kids, who know FAR more than I ever did at that age, have a sense of being invincible. Invulnerable. Unconquerable. And every class that I've seen receive their diplomas has thought the same thing. The theme of the valedictorian's speech, jointly given by the seven who received a 4.0 GPA (btw--the smart kids don't fit the "geek" label like they used to), was "success" and "no regrets"--be successful at whatever you do, and hold no regrets about doing it.

The other significance came from the numbers of faces that I recognized in the gym. A number of my classmates had kids graduating. A number of friends of my parents who had grandchildren graduating. The principal, who greeted me by name in the hallway. He was a young social studies teacher when I went to the same school over thirty years ago. In fact, I was part of the very first graduating class from that school. Our class is responsible for the godawful school colors of brown and gold. In a two-school town like this, it's the community of events like this that are special.

It also got me to thinking of the past HS graduation ceremonies that I've been part of. Two of them stick out in my mind. Those would be the first and the last ones that I was involved as a faculty member. The first was in 1980, less than two weeks after Mt. St. Helens erupted. School had been cancelled for the rest of the year, due to the huge amount of ash that was still on the ground and floating in the air. No finals! But the administration felt it was important to hold graduation on schedule. So the ceremony was held in the gym, with a fine layer of dust coating every inch of the bleachers, percussion equipment, hallways, etc. But did anyone notice? Not in the least! (Ironically, it's the same gymnasium used in the movie "Dante's Peak" - a volcano movie - where they have a town meeting and all hell breaks loose!) The second memorable one occurred 10 years later. I was also one of the senior class advisors (and oh, what an excellent class to work with!). One of the class officers, who was also in my band, asked if I had any music from the year that most of them were born (1972). Well, of course I did. So she and I came up with a mix tape of music from 1972, and decided that rather than a stuffy recessional piece played by the band, they'd march out to the first song of the tape, which "happened" to be Alice Cooper's "School's Out". Of course, she and I were the only ones to know about it. I caught hell from the administration, but I had numerous parents commend the decision. And rather than file out, the whole class just stayed on the floor, hugging and high-fiving. Took the entire first side of the tape before people started to head out. A perfect way to end their school career.
As the senior class was filing across the dais to receive their diplomas and a congratulatory handshake from strangers they didn't know (school board members), my brother-in-law leaned over and wondered aloud which one of these kids' "success" meant a highly productive meth lab. Or getting married quickly, only to become a wife-beater. Or getting to a good college, only to piss away their parent's hard earned money by partying every night and flunking out. He said it semi-jokingly, but he had a point. Among this class of 2007, there's going to be violent/sex offenders and drug dealers and scam artists. There's also going to be a handful of them dead by the 10-year reunion. Hell, there may be a couple dead within a year.

But every year, the hope renews, because in that same class will be successful businessmen, philanthropists, doctors and teachers. And it's that hope, and that naïveté, that is what makes me like these things every time I go to one.

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