In the days leading up to the graduation ceremony, there's plenty of talk among parents about tears and even predictions of audible sobbing from some.
As the first notes of "Pomp and Circumstance" fill the stadium and our sons Ben and Ross file in with their senior classmates, my wife and I get a little misty-eyed. We naturally flash back to the memory of holding their little hands as we walked them to their first day of kindergarten. We all were so nervous that day, and hopeful, and happy, and scared, and so excited and …
There's no time to get lost in memories. The future is knocking. Kids with last names starting with a B already are making the pilgrimage to the front to receive their diplomas. That means I have to make sure the camera is on and the lens cap is off by the time the C's hit the aisle.
The focus on the now (a literal focus for those of us parents wielding cameras) trumps any desire to dwell on memories. The graduates share that sentiment.
Their speeches touch on all the great things done by classmates as individuals and together, with nods given to the poets as well as the point guards, the math team as well as the musicians, and even a shout-out to the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff rally in recent days. But the speakers shine the spotlight on the future and the expectations about what great things these young adults will do next.
Hearing a graduate's full name (Cal's real name is Caleb? Carlos' middle name is Benjamin?) announced to the world alerts us to the specialness of the day. Many of these graduates haven't heard anyone say their full name since childhood days when parents employed it as a way to intensify an admonishment to "get in this house right this instant." That same kid might pass through adulthood without ever hearing his or her full name said out loud again -- unless he or she is sworn in as president of the United States or becomes the defendant in a criminal trial.
My wife and I suspect that the ceremony with all those full names will take forever, but it passes quickly -- although not quite as quickly as those years between that first day of kindergarten and that last day of high school.
There are a few references to the last day of high school, the end of an era and such. But that isn't what graduation is. It's a "commencement." To commence means to start, to launch, to initiate, to get cracking.
For many suburban graduates, commencement is merely the next step toward college, employment, military service or the life lesson that will follow high school. Just as we parents were certain (or at least pretty sure) that our kids could overcome their anxiety and uncertainty to conquer kindergarten, we walk away from commencement with a confidence (or at least a pretty good feeling) that our fresh adults can do the same with the next stage of their lives.
After the photographs with their younger brother, Will, and grandparents and a celebratory meal, our family's graduates head out together (that makes us happy) to be with classmates, and I eventually settle on the couch to watch the Blackhawks playoff game that I managed to record without hearing the outcome.
Some of the stars of the Blackhawks aren't that much older than our graduates. That night is a commencement for them as well. The team's 5-4 heartbreaking, season-ending loss in overtime doesn't have the celebratory feel of our sons' high school commencement, but the two events aren't all that different.
The minute the game ends, Blackhawks fans, grateful for the journey, rise to their feet to applaud the efforts and thank the participants for all the joyful memories. We parents do the same at the end of the graduation ceremony.
The Blackhawks will spend a moment thinking about the end of a season. Our graduates will spend a moment thinking about the end of their high school careers. Then both groups will move on to thinking about the future and what they need to do to get everything they can out of what comes next.
As parents and fans, we look forward to that.