Put away the pomp and circumstance. Pack the gown in mothballs. Hang the tassel from the rearview mirror, all the better to see the past for what it is: the past.
When the end comes, we move on, we go forward, we leave everything behind, the awkwardness, the disappointments, the loneliness. We instead remember the good times, the moments shared, the triumphs savored, and the times we will never, ever forget.
I got the opportunity to observe such an occasion at the end of this very long graduation season at my wife’s Catholic elementary school where she teaches. In the days leading up to the big graduation event a few days from now, there are a number of last celebrations. One of these is the traditional eighth grade dance held last Friday night. The ritual involves parents and teachers kicking off the dance with students, and then going away, leaving the seventh grade parents to serve food and chaperone. It is a gift from next year’s class to this year’s graduates. I guess the goal is to spare the youngsters the embarrassment of having their own parents watch them dance. In any case, the seventh grade parents did a wonderful job and created a memorable evening for everyone under the banner of this year’s theme: neon.
My wife was unable to be there when the evening started, so we snuck in at the end, around 10:30. The kids were still dancing, still hugging each other, still celebrating. Ahh, the sweet poetry of youthful energy! We visited with the chaperoning parents, snapped a few pictures, and quietly crept away to start our weekend. The dance went on and on.
I am more conscious now of those days so long ago when the world spread out before us and time seemed limitless. Now I know that time is fleeting, and life is sometimes very hard. We who teach young people are lucky to have the fire of their life force to push us to remember what it was like to be young, to feel invincible, to believe with all our hearts that everything would be okay if we dared to dream and went confidently in pursuit of those dreams, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.
I have been to several graduation events this year, as I do every year. I will attend these students’ ceremony a week or so from now, and I will snap a few more pictures and clap along with their parents when their names are called out. But this is the end of something and the beginning of something else, a transition, a changeover, a milestone. I know that life will change these kids in profound and unseen ways.
For one night though, they could be young and daring and lovely. They could laugh and slap each other on the back, and hopefully summon the courage to maybe tell someone how much he or she has meant to them over the years. Next year, they will be somewhere else, with different challenges, difficult obstacles, and new faces. Their former teachers will start over again with a new set of students and try to impress upon them that life is sweet even when it is hard, and adventures are mistakes you survive.
Here at the start of another seemingly endless summer, the books are put away, the classroom is locked in darkness, and adventure awaits under the hot sun. There is life, and it is always changing and moving and telling us a story. Listen to that story, graduates, kick off your shoes, and keep dancing.