I once considered my high school graduation the happiest day of my life.
“You’re beaming,” my friend Amy observed, as we waited for the procession out to the football field to start.
It’s true: I was beaming.
I just couldn’t believe that the day I’d been looking forward to for four years was finally here.
The ceremony itself was hugely enjoyable, as was the build-up.
There was the obligatory quoting from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss, the controversy over whether there should be a prayer (there was), the celebratory letting off of balloons, which some of us refused to do because of concerns over pollution and the potential harm to wildlife, the signing of yearbooks and the vote for class song.
The selection of class song was a small thing, but it was also an opportunity to work something interesting into a ceremony that was shaping up to be a fairly generic affair.
I favored the bouncily apocalyptic R.E.M. song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” which summed up my graduation mood pretty well, though one classmate made a compelling case for Nirvana’s “School” (sample lyric: “You’re in high school again./No recess!”) and my friend Steve pushed for Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” mainly because he thought it would be funny to play an 18-minute song during our graduation ceremony.
In the end, the majority of my classmates opted for the 10,000 Maniacs song “These Are Days,” which is a perfectly nice song and was probably played at approximately 98 percent of all high school graduations that year. Also, the lyrics — “These are days you’ll remember/Never before and never since, I promise/Will the whole world be warm as this” — did not speak to me at all. I was fairly confident the world would start to feel a whole lot warmer once I left high school forever.
It’s graduation season, which has caused me to reflect upon my own graduations.
Each one was a fitting tribute to the institution from which I was setting forth. I tend to eschew formality, but I think it’s important to acknowledge life’s milestones and that it’s possible to do this without glossing over our experiences. There were things about my high school graduation that irritated me, but this seemed perfectly appropriate, because high school irritated me — to pretend otherwise would have been dishonest and less entertaining.
I also greatly enjoyed my college graduation, which had its own quirks.
Caps and gowns were optional, and so I opted not to wear one, instead going into Cleveland with my friend Melissa to buy a dress. There was no rehearsal — we received a number and found our place in line shortly before the ceremony. (A letter from the college informed us that this would be the “greatest mass unrehearsed event of your life.”) Our procession took us through a memorial arch built to commemorate missionaries killed in the Boxer Rebellion, and each year a handful of students elected to run around the arch to protest imperialism. I was not one of them — students who walked through the arch were described as expressing support for service and volunteerism.
All of this made for a graduation that was slightly more complicated than the average ceremony, as each student was forced to decide whether to wear a cap and gown and whether to walk through or around the arch. You couldn’t get out of that place without thinking long and hard about yourself — about how you wanted to present yourself to the world, your values and ethics and the ways in which individuality and community intersect. College wasn’t easy — and neither was my graduation.
As we get older, events that celebrate our achievements are few and far between, with the exception of the occasional wedding, baby shower, retirement dinner or going away party.
These events, though special, cannot approach the scope of a graduation, that once- or twice-in-a-lifetime feeling of being with a large group of peers and setting forth together into the world. I had a nice going away party when I left my first job, but I felt very much alone. I was leaving friends and colleagues behind, and they would carry on perfectly well without me. Nowadays, four years passes in a blip.
Which is fine, most of the time. But occasionally you want something more.
So enjoy your graduations.
They might seem long and tedious, but they actually mean something, and you’re likely to remember them for a long time.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.