I often take those quizzes on Facebook—you know the ones—all the BuzzFeed quizzes about personality and one’s knowledge of art or history, or whether or not we are sociopaths—as if a sociopath couldn’t fool that feeble fifteen question quiz.
One quiz has labeled me an “optimistic pragmatist” and I would say that is about right, so imagine my surprise when, at the OHS graduation, I teared up before the first stirring bars of “Pomp and Circumstance” and I stayed misty throughout the whole program.
It is a wonderment to me. I am not the sentimental type, and certainly not emotional. Oh, I will go on a rant sometimes when I’ve had a vexing day with poor service and technical glitches, but the rant is short-lived and I try to keep it within the confines of my own home, and before dinner.
Because our baby was graduating—please don’t tell him I called him that.
My nephew, Paxton, strode into the Sportscenter looking manly and serious, as did some of the other boys. Other classmates walked down the red carpet as if they had been practicing for this all their lives—their heads high and looking around, big smiles on their faces.
The girls with precariously pinned mortarboards managed their heels better than my class did a lifetime ago. We were the bellbottom jeans and flipflop crowd and for many of us it was the first time we had worn heels in months, if not years, if ever.
I don’t know what it was that got me, but I think it was a combination of things. The ending of something, the beginning of something else, sitting with my mother, herself an OHS graduate, looking for myself in these fresh young faces and not finding it and thinking about that, too.
My brothers and sisters graduated in that very place, from the same school as did most of my nieces and nephews. Anita Burnette, the steadfast principal throughout the nieces’ and nephews’ high school years was retiring and that made me sad. She was in evidence at every event I attended, and I saw her again graduation night, realizing for the first time how petite she is, dwarfed by some of her graduates.
I was surprised because she was a powerful presence at OHS and she ran a tight ship. Even so, as she gave out diplomas she hugged almost every student—-a gentle arm around a shoulder, or a warm wide-open embraces, affectionate pats on the back, a smile for each one. No wonder that graduating members of the choir struggled through tears to sing “You Life Me Up,” a song they dedicated to her.
I wouldn’t have recognized most of Paxton’s friends when their names were called. Here was the little girl who ran around the bleachers with him and his posse when they were in grade school, bored with the football game going on at Rash Stadium.
She kept up with the boys and it tickled me—she might have been the ringleader, even. I wouldn’t have guessed her to be the beautiful young woman who accepted the diploma on behalf of that darlin’ little tomboy.
Joseph Hunt, the class president, gave one of the finest student speeches I have heard at a commencement—-and I have heard plenty. He said that this class was like no other. That it was an historic class, the 121st graduating class. Imagine it.
He mentioned the great year in sports that OHS enjoyed, and also the accomplishments in the arts, theatre, academics, and the jaw-dropping amount of scholarship money given to this class.
And that, after tonight, everything changed. Never would this group be exactly as it is in this last hour together. And that made me cry, too.
Because it is true. It is wise.
As much as I have loved being an aunt, with little kids running in and out, those days are over. Paxton was my best little buddy. Still is, but in a way transformed. He is a fine young man and now we talk about grown up things. I hope that doesn’t change.
But for now, his future—all of their futures—are out there, waiting.
And they are leaving us for them.
As they should.
And we must let them go.