This is the time of year for all order of commencements. Families will be traveling all over the country to attend graduation ceremonies of high school and college seniors. Robes will be bought. Caps will be thrown. “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.” But what does it all mean?
For one thing, it means the end of one leg of a journey and the sad fact of parting with those we called friends. I know of a few people who still remain in contact with their high school or college besties. But not me. In fact, the only person from my college I still talk to is my wife. I haven’t seen anyone from my high school since a funeral a few years ago. Facebook does NOT count!
Like this year’s graduates, and every year’s graduates, we all promised to stay in touch. I still have the signed yearbooks. The memories are more faded than the ink. In some ways, it is sad. I do miss some of those days. But I’m realistic, too. Most of my high school days were angst-ridden. Nothing I’d care to repeat.
College was better. But, for me, even the closest relationships there were superficial. We didn’t drift apart as much as fly apart. The same will be true of most of this year’s graduates, though they may deny it for now.
Another meaning behind the ceremony is the one most commencement speakers remind us of — commencement is a beginning of something. High school seniors step into a new reality; one of more independence and more responsibility. Most will survive, some won’t. Some will realize their dreams, most won’t.
Adolescent dreams, like the sand on the shore line, shift with the waves of time and life. For some, the sand will be ripped from under their feet. Life is cruel like that. Others will see the shift and build sand castles. I envy them.
We ritualize these times in order to capture that moment when something amazing is accomplished and something even more amazing is a gleam in the eye. They walk across our stages as aspiring engineers, actors, teachers, doctors. We encapsulate them like that. They will forever be: Future ‘whatever’.
They are just people, of course. Kids trying to make a life. In some ways, we do them a disservice in making Much Ado About Nothing. But I’m cynical like that.
What we need to be telling them is that they’ve done hardly anything, yet. There is a lot of life to live after 18 or 22 or even 24, 25, 26… Are they prepared for that? What real skills do they have? I don’t mean checkbook balancing (though that is a dying art). Can they hold a rational conversation outside of their cell phone? Can they make a reasonable argument in more than 144 characters?
I suppose that all of this is just the ramblings of someone who has seen their fair share of commencement exercises (I taught high school for 13 years) and forgotten all of those speeches. Maybe I should be more hopeful of the rising generations. Maybe. Perhaps.

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