Graduation was held at my alma mater the other night. Some of the kids showed up in sweats, some half-awake, but most were, thank God, excited because this was their day. The big one that many of their parents and brothers and sisters never made it to.
As the students were in the back trying on navy blue cap and gowns, the staff and I were busy in the commons, greeting an astonishing number of parents. It must’ve been awkward for our principal who had been phoning them at the end of every day for the past nine months, making conversation with the machine. But, all that aside, they were there and it matters.
My waterworks first went when I saw my favorite student stand at the podium and give the auditorium his address. He doesn’t do speeches, at least, that’s what he told us when we first approached him with the idea. But I think he was so thankful for the thought that he buckled down for a week, wrote a speech and then rewrote it over and over in a panic, half-joking that he’d need a shot of whiskey if he were to go through with it.
But he did it, SOBER, stammering and looking down the whole way through. In the middle, he talked about being sixteen and becoming dad and how this school didn’t make him feel a bit guilty about it. How this school helped him raise his beautiful boy. How our sweet little daycare teacher saved his life. She was sitting next to me when he said her name and I watched as she plucked plucked plucked little tissues from her child-size box.
Compared to my graduation ceremony, this was a teeny tiny affair. Where there were 500+ in my class, we have forty graduates this Spring and only 25 that bothered to show up. They only filled up two rows of seats.
But, also compared to my graduation ceremony, this is an emotional vortex. If you had just seen it you would know.
We had Super Seniors crossing that stage with such confidence. They reached the other side where we stood in a receiving line and squeezed us as if it had all just hit them. We had tough-as-nails-kids, red-eyed from rubbing out tears. We had the head-desk-dozers holding chins up high, floating away in disbelief. We had families getting out their seats, charging to the stage’s edge, cameras flashing and howling hallelujahs. And that last part -with the families- you don’t know how big that was.
And you can’t really explain being caught up in that kind of crazy joy, but when the staff and I leaned in and looked down the line at each other, we could see our beating hearts banging against our chests. We smiled wide and wept because really, who gets to watch 25 of their kids make it?
Who gets to spend a year believing you’re the only thing standing between these kids and a hurricane world and then watch them come out the other side breathing? Watch all of your tears, all of your tirades, all of your genuine love walk across a stage to a wild applause and their happy dance?
And even though, within days the aroma of that night will fall way and their Hard Lives will carry on, I have this wild idea that things may have changed a little. That the walk across the stage and the crowd going crazy and our tightly gripped hugs may have shown them that they are just at the base of their Possible. That out in this wide world, there are places they can keep budding and growing and one day burst out into so much more than they ever supposed.
And hopefully they’ll know that we will always always be one phone call away from telling them all over again.