Over Easy: Graduating to life’s next stage

For the Valley News
Published: 5/27/2022 9:39:01 PM
Modified: 5/27/2022 9:39:04 PM

It’s graduation time, when Pomp and Circumstance fills the air again and again and again. When the list of degree-getters gets awfully long, there’s a moment when a kid named Zywicki can be a hero.

Three cheers for the end of the alphabet!

The return of Pomp makes me think of my first graduation, way back in 1971, a small affair at a Catholic high school with an unusually tiny senior class that year, just 34 souls.

I don’t recall anyone telling us to follow our dreams or that we could be whatever we wanted in life. They probably hoped for a couple of middle managers, a priest perhaps, and the rest dutiful Catholics, which was a thing then. (I think we were more drawn to the story of Augustine of Hippo, in his wild pre-saint years. He is said to have prayed, “Lord help me to be pure, but not yet.”)

I instinctively knew I wasn’t going to go to space or reinvent the cotton gin. On the other hand, I aimed to avoid a major public scandal or being the subject of a five-state manhunt. So far, so good.

In the meantime, I was heading off to a summer job grilling hamburgers and then to state college, which would lead to a newspaper career where I was a true lifelong learner. It was one thing after another: town government, local schools, authors, beekeepers, wannabe witches, presidential candidates — and a young man recognized by the Guinness Book folks for whistling the highest note.

It’s a funny thing about life. Everything (almost) in high school seemed boring. But later everything (almost) seemed interesting. I blame myself for the former and applaud myself for the latter. If curiosity was currency, I would be rich.

My two kids’ Lebanon graduations stand out more strongly in memory. It was no shock to us that they graduated, but each time I was bursting with something — not pride, but satisfaction that their childhoods were over and that they had been good ones.

They and their friends looked young, lively, promising and bright. We, the happy audience, beamed so much hope and love in their direction they seemed to shine.

Or that’s the way I remember it.

The long-suffering parents (teen years) sighed with relief because we no longer had to wait up in the anxious night for them. They were off! Their lives were their own.

But really, school graduation is just one milestone in lives that will have many more. There could be similar ceremonies for others, some great, some small.

I am not exactly sure how you would measure completion, but growing into full adulthood is a long-term area of studies. A second graduation would certainly be called for.

The process has become like Ulysses’ voyage (that some teacher in your past may have mentioned). He encountered cannibal giants, one-eyed monsters, an enchantress who turned men into pigs (don’t snicker, feminists) and deadly seductive sea nymphs.

The modern version: paying off school loans, being able to afford a house and getting good health insurance. Less colorful, but still epic.

Later in life, after kids of your own, comes the fullness of emptiness. Someone should gather all the new empty-nesters in a particular year and give them agency to take down the Big Papi posters, the Justin Timberlake shrines. The children are the future, but their bedrooms are the past.

Retirement is massively significant. Completing a career should entitle you to speeches, music and a walk across a stage. Paying off your mortgage is likewise monumental. It should earn a ceremony and fireworks.

I don’t envy speakers whose job it is to dispense wisdom on demand. I have always been a muddled philosopher, unsure of the meaning of life or where I left my glasses. After graduation was behind me, I just put one foot in front of the other and tried to do my best: good husband, good father, a guy who showed up at work. As football coach (and not life coach) Bill Belichick preaches, I did my job.

And now, all in all, more or less, on most days it seems to have turned out OK. Our grown children are good humans. The bills are being paid, with a bit left over. I am more content than I was at 18, when I hungered for something meaningful that didn’t involve sitting in a row of desks.

The powers that were at my high school didn’t tell us we could change the world, which I don’t hold against them. With 69 years under my belt, I feel it’s been a struggle even to change myself.

But good luck to the next generation we’re sending out to give world-changing a try. It’s a big world and it needs it.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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