An American Graduation

I remember the weather that summer, as it was uncharacteristically hot for Scotland and there was a rare run on sunglasses. I also retain specific imagery of the teenage music scene at the time: it was the end of glam rock, the maturity of classic rock, the unexpected popularity of disco, and the full frontal assault of punk. I recall in some detail many of my friends and teachers and their ample assortment of colorfully patterned wide-collared clothing as we all struggled with the awkward transition from flares to drainpipes. I remember our stimulating debates in the hallways and classrooms and even today I can describe the senior rec room decor, right down to the coffin-sized wooden “radiogram” that had been donated to the youngsters, which I assume is now in an IKEA museum somewhere. But I don’t remember my high school graduation. I have tried and tried but cannot produce any mental images or footnotes relating to an event that was designed to honor my late 1970’s graduation and passage to the world of college, university, and commerce. I’m fairly sure there must have been some commemoration, and perhaps I did not participate for whatever reason, but currently it escapes me.

Conversely, almost forty years later, I am quite certain that my daughter will not forget her high school graduation in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. I won’t forget it either. This American graduation cannot be characterized as an event as that implies singularity. A series of events, like baseball’s World Series, it went on and on and continued to amaze and entertain us as we rooted and cheered on the players week after week as they slugged it out in true team spirit. This teenage valediction had all the fanfare and finale uncertainty that you might expect with a Rolling Stones’ farewell tour.

Probably a couple months or so before, clothing, caps and gowns were ordered for the official photographs, which were duly taken well in advance of the big day. Numerous pre-graduation parties were held at homes where kids’ parents could politely meet each other, in many cases for the first time, and probably the last. There was a rehearsal graduation and dinner the night before the ceremony but no rehearsal dinner now that I come to think about it. There was a peculiar mass family breakfast at the school that had no food. Soppy, funny, and insightful parent to offspring messages were captured for eternity in a thick, professionally bound high school yearbook, as parents competed to provide the most succinct, inspirational and memorable memoranda.

The ceremony itself was held in the impressive Washington DC Constitution Hall, where I had previously seen the Foo Fighters and Steve Miller. It was just as packed for this show, although this time featuring about 500 rock stars. Parking was easier for the Foo Fighters, and we didn’t have to line up outside for hours to see Steve Miller. And there were many more celebrations after the formality—the school arranged for an all night pool party complete with DJ at a nearby health club, parent-kid parties continued, and did I mention the gifts? There were gifts, many, many gifts, and also countless fashion-related reasons for shopping throughout the entire experience.

America loves a celebration, and we love to honor our kids and recognize achievement, big or small. Certainly high school graduation is laudable and deserving of our sincere respect and warmest congratulations, and the world badly needs educated kids. Yet, after all of these highly entertaining proceedings I’m still scratching my head trying to recall my own convocation.

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