Friday, June 12, 2009

The Graduate

No one tugged at him touting the eternal optimism of plastics. No one crushed a wad of money into his hands. There were also no cap, no gown, and no car for college.

But there was plenty of pomp and circumstance as Miguel graduated yesterday from the fifth grade.

Heads bowed in either reverence or fear, Miguel and Sam Afsharipour led seventy-one Dixie School graduates into the school’s multipurpose room as they concluded elementary school on a partly sunny morning.

Parents craned with digital cameras clicking and digital video recorders quietly whirring. Tears welled in parents and grandparents’ eyes, older siblings shifted restlessly, and Maya flitted between Verna and me.

“Why did I ever listen to you?” Verna asked me. “This is the last time we sit in the middle of the row. Next time we’re taking the aisle seats,” in order to make a quick getaway with Maya, who laughed loudly, narrated a running commentary of the ceremony, and informed everyone in several rows that she was hungry.

Miguel later said, “I didn’t hear her at all.”

Thanks goodness, for we didn’t want to ruin the festivities for him or anyone else. Even though the idea of a fifth grade graduation seems superfluous, the giggling energy generated by Miguel and his classmates and their utter devotion to the school and each other deserved some type of closing ritual, I guess.

I mean have we blown things wholly out of proportion with how we celebrate youth? There are now preschool graduations, fifth grade graduations (before students enter middle school), 8th grade graduations prior to high school, high school graduations, and ceremonies to mark the ends of college and grad school.

What’s next: ceremonies to celebrate spelling acumen, physical prowess, or the ability to share? Do we trivialize childhood accomplishments by having a plethora of ceremonies? Is this like having sports moments co-opted by corporate sponsors, reducing them to overt silliness? “And now our Tostito’s crunchy halftime report” or “Welcome to the Acme Axel Grease game time summary.”

I can just see it now: the principal stands at the front of the auditorium and intones, “Today, before parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, former neighbors, letter carriers, babysitters, nannies, mother’s helpers, and the weird guy who always sits on the park bench, we celebrate the first grade because now all of them, except for Billy Smith, are able to read, though we do question some of the racier material Missy Davis brought into ‘Show and Tell’.”

But amid all my cynicism, I was elated and proud. Miguel spent only one year at Dixie, having switched over after five years at a Waldorf-inspired school in Mill Valley. The transition academically was difficult at first, but Miguel buckled down from the beginning and was able to do quite well. He had absolutely no problem acclimating himself socially, in part because he went from a class with three boys total to one with 15. He was in sports and games heaven at Dixie.

The ceremony was very sweet. Several students shared memories of each grade level at Dixie; there was slide show, which Miguel introduced; and all the fifth graders sang “Shooting Star”, about ending one phase of life and moving into another.

Verna and I shed tears of joy and sadness—joy for Miguel and sadness that Verna’s mother was not alive to share with us. But her father was there, and that was great.

After a brief reception, Miguel and I walked back to his room to hug his teacher and collect his report card. On the way back to the car, Verna said, “Miguel, where do you want to go for lunch?”

“Pasta Pomodoro,” he said.

Once we settled down and got our drinks, Verna lifted her glass and said, “Let’s have a toast to Miguel the graduate.”

We clinked glasses and tapped plastic cups, but Miguel looked over at Verna and said, “Mom, it’s only fifth grade.”

And now for some appropriate perspective from someone who gets it: thank you, Miguel, thank you very much. The celebration continues.

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