"I'm living my life based on decisions a 17-year-old made." (Stew, "Passing Strange")
The young men - I'm going to have to get used to not saying "boys" anymore - are now 18 and high school graduates. (They actually graduated a couple of weeks ago, but it takes time to get to things sometimes, you know?)
If you've had the experience, you know it's a time of great joy, and great emotion. There's seeing a fast-forward version of the maturing of your own children, of course. And having that underscored by seeing their classmates, the ones you've watched grow since kindergarten, as adults themselves. And realizing that along with growing older yourself, you've grown and changed in almost as many ways as they have. What you heard all those years ago really is true: adults don't make children. Children make adults. And it's a process that ends only when you do.
The ceremony itself was fun, dignified and mercifully short. The mayor spoke (zzzzzzzzzzz), as did the superintendant of schools, who expressed dismay over how much he was having to pay to send his own children to college. (Must be hard on that $200,000 a year salary, Mr. Superintendant.) My mother and sister came with us, as did my father-in-law and his friend. I thought of my dad. At my 40th birthday party some years ago (ok, a big bunch of years ago), I told my father, who had not been well at the time, how great it was that he was able to be there and he said, "If I had to crawl to be here, I would." As I sat at the graduation looking upward, hoping he was getting to see his cherished boys graduating, I heard the words: "If I had to crawl to be here, I would." It still brings tears.
Afterward, we went out to a nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant, one of those places where the chef cooks at the table while juggling the food, the knives and anything else he can get his hands on. The highlights included embarassing the boys by having the waitstaff parade around singing "Happy Birthday" with the maitre d' leading them wearing a dragon head, and listening to my father-in-law, speaking loudly and slowly, trying to order a Beefeater martini on the rocks from a waiter who barely spoke English. I have no idea what he ended up getting, but it didn't look much like a martini.
Now, those two little babies - the ones we once struggled to get two-ounce bottles of formula into and who now take down small mountains of pizza, mac-and-cheese, and all the other basic teenage food groups - prepare to go off on their own and make their way in a brave new world of responsibility and independence. (I speak, of course, about them going to their first Bon Jovi concert, though I suppose college is kind of a big deal too.) The pride, fulfillment, and faith I'm feeling in the future of the world are more than I have words to express. It will be an adjustment for us in September when they're living on campus, I think more so for a father who generally doesn't get to spend as much time with them over the years as a mother does. I'm hoping to keep my mind off the sudden quiet by keeping busy with household projects like converting their room into a hot tub.
I've often fretted for the future of the world, especially now that our president has declared the new Russian president is a "smart man who understands the issues," thereby giving the Russians two big advantages over us. The men and women of the Class of 2008 really do leave me hopeful for the slowing down of the descent of this handbasket we're in. In particular, I've enjoyed reading the quotes some of the graduates selected for their yearbook to memorialize where they feel they are at this touchstone moment. As one of the students quoted J.K. Rowling, "It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." From the Class of 2008 come these fine selections:
"Never make someone a priority when all you are is their option."
"In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other." (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
"Ask me about my vow of silence."
"Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards."
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"I do not fear a man who has practiced 10,000 kicks only once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. (Bruce Lee)"
"To love is to risk not being loved in return, but risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing at all." (Leo Buscaglia)
"The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."
"He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which." (Douglas Adams)
"Being uncomfortable is one of the secrets of the universe."
Take heart, dear readers. I've seen the future, and it's looking up. On the left, the future at 9 years old. On the right, at 18 years, as well as the past or present or something at an age we won't discuss...