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The Graduate

The first-day-of-school picture is a staple of American families. Here is little Billy or Susie, dwarfed by their backpacks, heading out the door. I've done that at least a dozen times so far, more if you count kindergarten and preschool. Today, for my oldest daughter, I'll snap the inevitable conclusion: the last-day-of-school photo.

Graduating from high school may not be a big deal for some people. It's what you're meant to do, after all. And most people in this area, I'd surmise, are from families long removed from the days where being "the first person in my family to graduate from high school/go to college" was applicable.

But it's still a cause for celebration and a moment for reflection. My daughter Gwyneth will cross the stage this morning and my head will fill with thoughts of her as a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 12-year-old.

A lot of life is spent putting in the hours. That's the unexciting truth of things. Kids graduating from high school this week have learned they can do that. Thirteen years most of them have been in school. Some didn't miss a single day.

Donning that gown today, flipping that tassel, signifies a move into adulthood. For many students, it means a move away from parents. I'll be sad about that, but I'm also proud. More than anything, I'm confounded by time, how tricky it is. Why, it seems like only yesterday that Gwyn was teetering under that backpack and sneaking a last look back at me as the bus doors closed behind her.

By John Kelly  |  June 8, 2009; 9:11 AM ET
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On the theme of your column--I don't remember who spoke at my hs graduation, but I remember the class giving a standing ovation to a student who was allowed to walk through graduation after a series of mishaps. I forget the initial reason he was told he couldn't walk through and get his diploma, but it was common knowledge that the administration had put the word out, "if Ed does ANYTHING, let us know." So he did something and the punsishmentwas that he would not be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony. They eventually relented and he was told he would be allowed to walk through. So he celebrated by spraying a visiting gorilla (person in a gorilla suit bringing balloons to someone for his/her birthday) with the fire extinguisher. So walking through graduation was out for him again. But in the end I think his parents were in cahoots with admin and he was told at the last minute that he could go through. An earlier transgression was leaving school to go to the park with a friend. Unfortunately, his parents were off work that day and went for a walk in that very same park. Oops!

Now for my college reunion, (VT '87) Gerry Baliles, then governor of Virginia, chastised us for not having graduated a basketball player in 10 years. Hmm, last I checked, I didn't have anything to do with the basketball team graduation rate.

Posted by: janedoe5 | June 8, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

All we wanted to do at our HS graduation was get through it blow off our parents and guests and hit the keg parties and the ladies. Now this was 1977 and tings were allegedly different back then.

Either the CEO of First Va Bank spoke at my HS or college graduation I don't remember.

Parents back then didn't pay or organize HS graduation parties. I just hauled the 10+ kegs to the party in my 72 Pontiac Grandville. Can't do that in a Prius or
Honda Fit. Miss that car w/the COPO SD 455.

Posted by: sheepherder | June 8, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, back in '76 all we wanted to do was get thru the ceremony & hit O.C.

We had the 1st ceremony of the day at Cole Field House, and the speaker was some TV reporter w/ bad hair. During the ceremony, when one of the not so pretty girls made it on stage, some of the class senior rowdies started barking & making other animal sounds, when they announced her name. It was funny at the time, but looking back, a sad state of affairs, for our class, or lack of class & maturity.

Back then, the drinking age was only 18. If you were stopped, the police asked if you could make it home on your own, and they would allow you to do so, after pouring out your beer, or keeping it themselves. Some of us from that era remember ONLY 1 Bay Bridge to get to/from O.C.

Can someone put in a call to Doc Brown & get the Delorean Time Machine & take us back to the bi-centennial & the smoke-in, before July 4th? =)

Posted by: Robbnitafl | June 8, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

For all of those students who are graduating from High School, College or receiving an Advanced Degree...CONGRATULATIONS!!! You have worked hard and deserve to be applauded on your great achievement.

Having said that, can we PLEASE have a moratorium on these non-graduations? I'm referring to these Kindergarten, Elementary School and Middle School ceremonies where children stumble across the stage in an oversized cap and gown to receive a piece of paper that acknowledges they can now color inside the lines or recite their multiplication tables.

Parents: If your child cannot go out and get a job the day after receiving a diploma, it's not a graduation. Do not send out invitations or plan large family functions to reward a child for going from one grade to the next. Those of us who did not directly contribute to the child's DNA (i.e. parent) could care less.

The idea of making a big production out of ordinary events diminishes the importance of real moments of achievement. It is this same mentality that will give every kid in the league a trophy just for showing up. What incentive does a child have to try harder if they know they are going to be rewarded no matter what?

Reserve celebrations for those actions/events that actually deserve to be celebrated. That's what makes them special.

Posted by: wmayhan1 | June 8, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

"Parents: If your child cannot go out and get a job the day after receiving a diploma, it's not a graduation."

I understand your point, but would still like to point out that in the current career-getting climate, graduation may have less bearing on being employed than one might think. :)

That said, I'm inclined to agree; I tend to decline those invites as well.

Posted by: | June 8, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Ah - graduation! Heat, traffic, annoying relatives, unflattering gowns...

All I remember about my HS graduation was that the speaker played a snippet of the number one pop hits for each of the 12 years we'd been in school, which was great fun (M-M-M-My Sharona, anyone?)

The speaker at my Georgetown Undergrad graduation was a relatively unknown author/alumnus Michael Dorris, who years later sadly committed suicide. I remember nothing of his speech. This was 1989. With all of the famous alumni, that was the best they could do? Law school graduation was equally uninspiring. Let's face it, these events are for the families.

Posted by: conchfc | June 8, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations, Gwyn, on your graduation. Have fun at college, but remember your Daddy's hopes and dreams for you now and always.

Posted by: iremembrmama | June 8, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

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