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Commencement


A few weeks ago I had lunch with a group of my high school friends and one of them had the audacity to mention that next year will be our 50th reunion. It did not come as a surprise (We can all do math; we had Velma Kemp for algebra.), but it did come as a shock and that undeniable fact has been lurking along the edges of my consciousness ever since. Then a few days ago my mail included a high school graduation announcement from a young lady I’ve known since she was a toddler. It is lovely – printed on heavy stock with photos of the smiling graduate in cap and gown and a subtle caption regarding acceptance to her first-choice college. ‘Tis the season. I suspect that there will be more arriving in the next few weeks, but I can’t begin to guess from whom. I can’t keep up anymore – the girls and boys for whom I gave baby showers and attended recitals and took to get ice cream have become subject to soap opera aging, going from first graders in April to high school seniors in August. Just the other day I was driving down what used to be Lester Road, staring at the building that looks nothing like the high school into which I walked every day for four years and thinking about the girl I was then. That girl did all her assignments and never got a tardy slip. That girl bought a spirit ribbon every Friday and never forgot her locker combination. That girl had her future all figured out and never considered the possibility of deviation. That girl was smart, but not yet wise. I think she is now, though. She has lived through enough wars and political crises and cultural sea-changes to acknowledge that textbooks can never be definitive. She has experienced enough disappointment and frustration and grief to understand that a sterling report card and an honor graduate stole do not guarantee happiness. She has survived enough change to know that resilience is more important than perfect attendance. She has learned to say “I don’t know.” She has learned to say it whenever and wherever she gets the opportunity. She has learned that admitting ignorance is better than demonstrating stupidity. She has learned that “I don’t know” is the birthplace of curiosity and curiosity has fed her when nothing else could. She has learned to take some chances. Not the race-the-train kind or the intentionally-stupid I-dare-yous, but the ones that push her out of her comfort zone, the ones that require her to recognize, articulate, and face down her greatest fears. The ones that appear out of the ether like the voice of Gandalf or Yoda or God. The ones with no guarantee that the result will be what she wanted or planned. She has learned to pay attention. To everything. To the scent of cardboard boxes and the sound of a squirrel running through dead leaves. To the coolness of sheets on sunburned skin and the weight of a door being pulled open. To the echo of her own voice in the darkness. To beginnings and endings. To people – cashiers and receptionists and janitors, the people in the next booth, the police officer directing traffic at the intersection. Ultimately, she has learned that there is no finish line, no graduation, no moment when the work of becoming oneself is done.


Copyright 2023

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