It is (and isn't) about you

Michael Boylan's picture

Graduation ceremonies are boring.

They often require one to sit in uncomfortable seats, wearing uncomfortable clothes either outside in oppressive heat or humidity (Friday’s high, 86 degrees) or in a room that quickly closes in with the dull roar (and aroma) of a crowd of people.

If you are a participant in the graduation ceremony, it is likely that you will barely notice the mundane aspects of the event. A graduate tends to live in his or her head during commencement. Instead you will be focused on hearing your name, paranoid that you will miss it (what did they just say?), miss your chance to cross the stage and have to do the whole year over again. You wouldn’t put it past some bean counter in a closet office docking you several days of post graduation bliss for not paying for the extra tassel on your cap or for missing your place in the ceremony. Not to mention the fact that there is an army of videographers sitting in the stands, waiting for the smallest mishap to post on YouTube.

Once you settle down, realizing that unless your whole row missed getting up, you haven’t missed anything, you try to visualize walking across the stage and not tripping over your feet or the robe. You don’t need that posted on your wall each year for eternity. Eventually, you reach a zen place in your mind, where you start to weigh your entire life up to this point, certain that if you could just focus hard enough, you could see what the future holds for you. The whirring and clicking of cameras and the hammering ticking of millions of texts makes this impossible. Questions of whether or not you should say something when you reach the stage or flash some sign to your friends and family rises up in your mind.

You should not.

You may not have ever been here before, but you should act like it. Contrary to what athletic stars and semi-celebrities on “reality” shows would have you believe, not every major event in your life requires an end zone celebration.

Graduation is about honoring you and your peers and all that you have accomplished. It is the last thing standing between you and an exciting new chapter in your life. It is like the penultimate episode of “Lost.” You know the grand finale is coming, but you are asked to wait through what seems like days of mind-numbing busy work to get there. Graduation practice? Really? Walking in a line and sitting down takes practice? Several days of it?

Well, yes, because here’s the kicker, graduation isn’t really about you. I know, in the last paragraph I said it was about you, but honestly, if they told you that you could have your diplomas emailed to you most of you would go for it. You could download it from the beach and have your photo taken with it on the putt putt course and with some furry mascot at a theme park.

Graduation is really about the people who got you there and have followed your every action since the day they first met you with awe. You’ll hear that a lot in the coming days, but it’s going to take years and years before that really sinks in. When you see someone you love ready to take that next big step in their life, that lesson is going to lodge itself in your throat and sting your eyes with sweet, sentimental tears. If you’ve never experienced them yet, get ready for tears of joy.

I will be attending a graduation this week. My son, Colin, who recently turned five, is graduating from Pre-K. I doubt there will be a bigger graduation day until his high school graduation and while I’m sure I will enjoy the event, guaranteed to be an overdose of cuteness, I know I will be crying those tears of joy.

Colin started out as an idea (let’s have a baby) became a sort-of reality (oh yeah, I can’t go to Vegas next June, we’ll have just had a baby) and then a hard core reality (it’s 3 a.m., we’re finally alone in the house with him and we can’t give him back). I don’t spend a lot of time looking at baby pictures of him, but they’re around and I sometimes don’t even recognize that baby because I see the little boy every day. I am amazed at how smart he is and how he seems to learn 12 new things every day. I don’t know when that stops for people (sophomore year of college for me, just kidding), but I hope it never stops for him or all of the other people donning a cap and gown this week. One more brag about my kid - he knows all the planets, can sing a song about them and understands why the furthest from the sun is the coldest. Remember, he just turned five, so that’s pretty cool.

I’d like to close with a commencement speech that I hope to trot out for Colin when he is 18 and about to graduate from high school. My hope is that it will be appropriate and meaningful for the Class of 2010, too.

When you were five years old, leaving pre-k and about to head into (I know Pre-K hates this but I don’t know what else to call it) real school, I thought I couldn’t be prouder of you or love you any more than I already did. You were so sweet, so eager to learn and to please, and honestly, aside from the several minutes of whining each day, such a great kid, I felt like it couldn’t possibly get any better. I forgot one thing though. We continue to grow each day. Not only did you grow in size (I’ll bet you’re my height or taller by now), you grew in spirit. You grew as a person. I stopped growing, size wise, a long time ago, but as you evolved into who you are today, my heart grew along with you.

When you graduated from Pre-K, I took a picture of you and your friends. I know you know a lot more today about how the world works, but I hope that you still can smile as pure as you did that day. I hope that you still make friends easily, play with such an imaginative and creative brain, care deeply about others and that you still thirst for knowledge and strive to be the best you can be, day in and day out.

I hope I helped you. I hope I guided you to the right path and helped you stay on it. Today, you start on a new path. It starts when you cross this stage.

Be proud of yourself for getting here.

Today, it’s all about you.

For me, it always has been.