There have been many times, as a mother, that I’ve thought back to my own childhood and thought, “Is this how it was for my parents?” or “This must be how my parents felt.” But probably never more so than today, watching my older son graduate from high school.
For the most part I think I’ve resisted the temptation to live through my children, wanting them to repeat experiences I had or pushing them to do things I never had the chance to do. Neither of them has shown an interest in arts and crafts, or playing a stringed instrument, or going hiking. My older son played in the marching band, which brought back memories of my participation in flag corps – but if I mentioned it he reminded me how much more effort it takes to play an instrument and march at the same time.
He is a good student by nature, having inherited both intelligence and a streak of perfectionism from both his parents. It was no surprise to see him get straight A’s, and we rarely had to either help him with homework or push him to finish assignments. Unlike me, he doesn’t enjoy creative writing, so he probably had to work harder for A’s in English classes than I ever did. And unlike me, he is a good enough instrumentalist to get straight A’s even in Band (I usually got an A- in Orchestra).
So it was not with great surprise, but with considerable pride, that we learned he was one of nineteen graduating seniors with a 4.0 average. I do my best to avoid bragging about my kids, but on graduation day it seems OK to mention that he was a valedictorian, something I longed to do but never quite managed. I know my parents were very proud that I was salutatorian, and I imagine I felt much the same way today that they did thirty-one years ago.
There’s something so stirring about the melody of “Pomp and Circumstance.” It’s still going through my head now, but I don’t mind. The ceremony in the gymnasium was long and hot (despite the enormous fans blowing at the doors), but it went surprisingly quickly for me (not for my bored ten-year-old). I looked out at the sea of purple gowns and mortar boards, and recognized young men and women I have seen in concerts and musicals over the past four years.
Even though I don’t know the majority of them, I know they are young people with hopes and dreams, anxieties and self-doubt. Whether or not they excelled academically, every one of them worked hard to get where they were today. For four years they have shared classes, lunches, jokes, wins and losses, good times and not so good times. Today was probably the last time they’ll ever all spend together.
For them it’s both a celebration and a good-bye. And it’s much the same for us parents. We celebrate what they’ve accomplished. And we know that in a few months, many if not most of us will be saying good-bye as they go off to college. Congratulations, and good luck, to the class of 2010.