I am the father of a fresh high school graduate. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend a commencement lately, do not panic. I will give you the experience now.
2:40 pm The commencement begins in twenty minutes here at Freedom Hall in Louisville. The crowd, a couple of thousand family members, is relatively low-key and quiet. It’s a lot like the crowds at University of Louisville Cardinal basketball games, which used to be played here.
A few people feel the basketball vibe and try to get the cheer “C-A-R-D-S” going. Instead, “CARDS” reminds dozens of parents they forgot to buy Hallmark cards for their graduates. Some hurry for the exit.
Even though we arrived twenty minutes early, we re are approximately 1.3 miles from the stage. I text Daughter #1 (D1) to let her know where we are sitting. I hear her phone beep in my wife’s purse next to me. Using my keen deductive skills, I determine my daughter will not receive my text. My wife looks at the message and ponders what our daughter is trying to tell us. We are not a very bright family.
3:00 pm The processional has started on time. This is a good sign. I’m trying to get a good photo of D1, but the lighting in the hall is weird. Everything looks a little blurry. Maybe it’s only my contacts. Since every third student is a slender Asian-looking girl with long brown hair, I may take a picture of the wrong graduate. Perhaps no one will know.
3:04 pm Six cops loiter near the back of the arena. They are prepared to quell any instance of trouble. You know how a gaggle of math and science geeks can easily riot when they smell freshly-pressed diplomas. Chaos worse than a calculator sale at Staples.
3:19 pm It has taken nineteen minutes for all the students to process. My entire commencement didn’t last that long. This is going to be a long ceremony. I order a sleeping cot online from Amazon. Even if I opt for free shipping, it should be here in plenty of time.
The graduates sit at the far end of the arena. The girls wear white gowns and the boys wear red. They sit so that the red gowns form an “M” for Manual High School. Depending on where you sit, it could look like a “W” or a Sigma symbol. From where we sit, it looks like a melted peppermint.
I’m glad I wore a jacket. It’s a little cool in the hall. In case you didn’t know it, this—the Kentucky State Fairgrounds—has more air conditioned space than any other state fair. The State Fair Board promotes this fact every year at fair time because it sounds better than saying, “Sorry. We don’t have butter sculptures like the Iowa State Fair does. But we do have three chickens and a Holstein heifer.”
3:25 pm We obviously don’t talk about grades much at home because I have just learned D1 is a valedictorian. We have this in common because a valedictorian spoke to me once. I believe she said, “You rode the short bus, didn’t you?” This school has 113 valedictorians–all with perfect GPAs. There is one salutatorian. Slacker.
Since “valedictorian” literally means the person who gives the farewell speech, I guess we’ll hear 113 goodbye speeches. I hope Amazon delivers my cot soon.
3:31 pm School administrators and students make speeches generously peppered with quotes. Updike, Twain, Thoreau, Covey… By the end of this ceremony, I’ll be the only writer who hasn’t been quoted. Unless… In the sage words of Ron D Smith, “Man, my butt is getting sore.”
3:47 pm It’s now time to hand out the diplomas. At least, they’re handing out diploma covers. There are no diplomas inside the cases. It’s a sham perpetuated every year at this time by the diploma industrial complex. They make you think you’re getting a diploma, but it’s only a letter saying final grades haven’t been entered, yet. The school also checks to see if the student owes anything. CNN should do an exposé.
Before the diploma covers are distributed, the class historian will make a short speech. She is telling all of us to shut up when our graduate’s name is announced. Seriously, she says. Don’t yell. This is a solemn event and the class doesn’t want all that noise. Families and friends are supposed to stand when their graduates are called. Seriously, the historian repeats, don’t yell. She is naive. These students haven’t listened to their parents for years. The tables will now be turned.
3:55 pm We’ve made it to last names that start with B. For the most part, the audience is respectful, with a few exceptions. Reaction pretty much falls along ethnic lines. The Hispanic families are most quiet, mainly because they’re not present. They are on their way to their second jobs. Because my family is mixed, we will have a combo reaction when D1’s name is called. Some of us will stand quietly, just proud that our graduate made it through high school. Others in our group will remain seated, too busy collating medical school brochures according to national rankings.
4:07 pm Ace thinks he will have to go on the run again. A mysterious guy with a Russian accent has come to this Podunk Arkansas town… That’s not part of the ceremony. It’s in the book I’m reading as the announcer reads off the F names.
4:11 pm We’ve made it the H’s. I’m having hunger pangs. Must have food. Where are the vendors like at the basketball games? How about some pretzels at least? They’re missing a big opportunity to make a killing. Note to self: Set up “side business” at next year’s graduations.
4:20 pm Hmm. I’ve never noticed that mole before. Should I have it checked? I’ll do the lick test. Oh, it’s just a chocolate smudge. When did I have chocolate? Two days ago? What does a chocolate plant look like? Is it brown? I’ll Google that.
4:32 pm D1 gets her diploma cover. I think it’s her anyway. She’s too far away to tell for sure. I’m proud of somebody up there, whoever it is.
4:55 pm The graduates are beginning to recess. I tell D2 that, see, she’ll get to have recess in high school, too. In fact, it’s the last thing she’ll do. D2 scowls at me. She does not think I am funny. Just like her sister.
Time to go. Another school holds its ceremony immediately after ours. I sell my cot to the highest bidder.
8 thoughts on “The shameless truth of high school graduations”
“arrived twenty minutes early” – you cannot get a good seat with that level of commitment. You must arrive while the previous graduation is still in progress and scoop up seats from people who got bored and left their own graduation early.
I will learn from you, Sensei.
You still got it…never was sure what it was but you don’t seem to be able to shake it.
I don’t know what it is either, but if it gets a response from you, I’m all for it.
This is absolutely true. I thought I was done with high school graduations after I finished with my own. I was wrong. People expect you to go to all kinds of graduations all the time. At my sister’s, I entertained myself by critiquing the graduates’ choice in footwear and wondering who on earth managed to invent some of those ridiculous names. Good luck on your next graduation!
What happened to graduation in the school gym? I had more kids in my graduating class than D1 (who graduated from high school a few weeks ago in the UCF Arena), and we all fit fine. Of course the ceremony was mainly for immediate family with extended family and friends to meet at the house when it was over. Ridiculous that we had to drive 45 minutes and park in the back 40 (the “free parking” ticket was of no use because the previous school’s mob hadn’t yet departed the parking garage when we arrived). At least D1’s class only had one val and one sal!
I am a high school teacher, and I’m required to attend graduation…every single year. In fact, I must arrive early (really, really early), hang out with the students in a gym, help them line up, and sit on the field during the entire ceremony. Once on the field, my job is to watch like a hawk for beach balls or other paraphernalia the graduates might use to disrupt the ceremony. Once the last name is called, the teachers flee in all directions, and I’ve heard that it’s quite funny to watch from the stands. We are all heading to places that sell adult beverages. I love my students, but you should feel sorry for me.
If you think it’s boring from the family’s perspective, just imagine how tedious the graduating kids think it is.