Josh's little brother graduated from high school this past weekend. I've been to lots of graduations, and they're never very exciting, but it seems to be the kind of thing you go do to be supportive. I think every previous event I've attended was in a sports facility of some kind, like a gym or a stadium. This one was in a church, a beautiful Methodist chapel that must've been modeled after Duke Chapel.
It was a schmancy affair. The organist played the processional, accompanied by a bagpiper. It was not "Pomp and Circumstance". I don't know what it was, only that it was not what I expected to hear. Or maybe it's just hard to recognize P&C on a bagpipe. The teachers filed in first, followed by the line of graduates. Everywhere there were phones and tablets out, aimed at the line of kids in general or trying to capture one specifically.
There were a series of remarks by various local bigwigs. The salutatorian was given time for a speech, except it was really just an introduction to the valedictorian (salt in an open wound, that). The valedictorian spoke next, providing a top ten list of advice that included things like "work hard" and "persevere." It also included the command to "be gracious," but judging by the comments afterward, what she meant was "be grateful." You know, when I graduated, someone gave me a dictionary. I thought it was lame, but maybe it's just what some kids need.
And then - we're moving right along here, might be done before McDonald's stops serving breakfast - it was time to give out the diplomas. There were only thirty-seven kids in the class, so one would expect that this part would be briefer than my niece's graduation, where something like 500 kids filed across the stage. In every graduation I've ever seen, some uptight administrator would sternly warn us not to cheer or show any sort of enthusiasm when our graduate's name was called. The reasoning given is that it takes up time, plus other kids who don't have a slew of relatives in the stands would feel left out when no one screamed for them. Mostly, it always seemed to be targeted against the poor kids, whose families are assumed to not know that graduation is a dignified affair and therefore not the place for yeehawing. Or maybe those are the kids for whom graduating was not a forgone conclusion, so their families are actually, you know, proud and happy.
There was no lecture about cheering here, because there was ample time for it. Cheering time had been purchased in advance, built right in to the cost of tuition. First, the kid's name was called, along with his parent's names. The fresh-faced be-gowned youth would come forward and then stand up front while a teacher or coach would give a personal remembrance about them. This took a very long time, but was not as dry as it could have been. The speeches were short, and some of them were pretty funny or interesting. I also had fun picking out the families of each individual, as that was when a whole row of people would pull out their phones to take pictures.
While the speakers were generally comfortable with public speaking from their professions, the quality of each speech varied a lot. It was also clear that some kids were just hard to write about. I felt the worst for a stone-faced young man who stood there while his chemistry teacher did a word association poem that was ostensibly about him. Some of them talked about the kid's parents, which makes sense, as the continuing existence of the school likely depends on the donations of parents of former students. Particularly amusing was a tennis coach who referred to a set of parents as being "very involved," followed by a story about them all going out to lunch approximately an hour after he first set foot in the school. Other speeches were sort of confusing, which I chalk up to being written in a hurry during the last crunch of the semester. Someone said a student was able to dish it out and also take it, then concluded that this probably had something to do with his Belgian heritage. I don't know enough about the history of Belgium to know what that even means. My favorite, though, was the young man who was said to have "business-minded social awareness," which I can only interpret as meaning "knowing how to tell who will be useful to him someday."
It was, after all, a giant self-congratulation session, like all graduations. I felt the urge to grumble about it, because rich people are so much better at self-congratulation than us regular folks, but in the end, these kids did not choose to be rich and go to a fancy school. Also, the speeches totally worked, as I left convinced that I had just been introduced to the thirty-seven most promising graduates in all the land. We can expect great things from them all, I'm sure.