Ryan graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago, as I may have noted in a pointed piece to his former English teacher. Sadly the emphasis must go on the his, not a former English teacher, but his. She will go on teaching badly.
Anyway, Ryan graduated and we are very proud of him. Very. But he had a graduation that could only have been his. It was Bo and Luke Duke meet Grannie Clampett on the football field for… something.
At first, the graduation in the working class, mostly hourly wage community was at 9am on a Friday morning. What? So, good luck kid, I had to take a day off from work, and lose pay, to watch you graduate… Sends a good message. But then it rained on Friday. The school system’s only back up plan for rain was to postpone the graduation until the next day. So… many people lost a day’s pay and didn’t see their kid graduate that day. The process annoyed me, just a little. And I’m not an hourly worker.
For those of you who don’t know, Jamie and Ryan moved and we have been driving Ryan fifty miles (each way) to finish his senior year where he started it. For what Jamie and I have spent in gas, we could have sent him to a private school. But it was his senior year…
Anyway, we left the house at 6am to make the drive one last time. Ryan had to be at the high school by 7:15 for the 9am graduation. We dropped him off and then drove across the street to the middle school and football field to wait. The graduates would be bused across the street, for reasons I could not fathom.
I parked the car and we walked by an open door at the middle school. Two women sat at two tables, with little signs “A-M,” and “N-Z.” If the kids were going to check in here, why go to the high school? Why try to herd excited cats across the road? But I let it go. I didn’t see it for the omen it was.
I should have.
Every cop in the county was present. All twelve of them standing around looking awkward. Watching the traffic — across the road — where they weren’t. They were assigned to the middle school.
Jamie and I surveyed the field in front of us. We paused before moving to the front row. I looked around. Something must be wrong? Bleachers, chain link fence, track, football field with chairs set up. This couldn’t be right — we were going to need binoculars to see the stage. See those red dots over there? Those are the people setting up. We had front row seats!
We had front row seats.
At some point, someone said that families of graduates whose last name was in the second part of the alphabet should sit on the visitor side of the field. So we moved.
We walked around the field on a nice concrete pathway. We paused for a moment to note the concession stand was open. I said to Jamie, “That’s odd, I’ve never seen a concession stand at a graduation before.” But there it was, open for business.
It was at this point that Bertha, I kid you not, her name was Bertha, and her entire extended family moved in front of us.
One of the guys (way, way over there) turned the PA system on and Smooth Operator blared out of the speakers. I looked at Jamie. Jamie looked at me. Bertha started doing the Electric Slide. Her sisters joined in. When Boz Scaggs started the Lido Shuffle, I knew I had already seen the highlight of the day watching Ryan put on his cap and gown. Concession stands, disco… to say I was concerned would be an understatement. I felt like we were crossing the long dark of Moria.
As soon as we moved past the concession stand, the concrete ended. No concrete pathways for visitors! Bertha’s sisters had on stilettos that immediately sank into the wet grass…mud. They stopped dancing. Not Bertha, she kicked off her heels and kept on keeping on.
We sat, again in the front row, and our view was no better. My canvas shoes were wet. Bertha and her large extended family sat beside us. I learned that her grandson, whose name I didn’t catch, would be graduating. He would be the first high school graduate in her family. His twin brother sat down beside me. “Where in the hell is your mother?” Bertha asked.
“Really, Gran?” It’s Saturday mornin’ she ain’t up yet!”
“Well maybe if she had her shit together, she’d have raised you right and you’d be out there with your brother ‘steada sittin’ over here like a dumb ass!”
“Gran, she done raised us both.”
“Don’t you get smart with me!”
Thankfully, something by the BeeGees started playing and Bertha started dancing again. Everyone who walked by stopped and talked to her. “Bertha, you still lookin’ good, honey.” “Shake that thang, mama.”
I began to wonder if the concession stand sold anything stronger than water. I was looking around at people in the stands, pretty sure I saw Uncle Jesse chatting with Jed. They were passing a flask between them. Ah, only water at the concession stand then. The sun was directly overhead, and despite sunglasses, I began using the program to shield my eyes. The day was going downhill.
The little man in the red shirt, way over there, stopped the music in the middle of Pharrell singing Happy and began Pomp and Circumstance. The graduates began their march. They divided into two lines, one for each side of the field. This was good — because that was going to be the only opportunity to take pictures! Ryan walked by. I took a picture and returned to my spot on the bleachers beside Bertha. Until that moment, I hadn’t noticed that several people in her family had brought air horns. Really?
The graduates sat. Three-hundred-twenty of them. I was alternating between using the program as a fan and visor.
The principal made some pleasantries and then introduced the valedictorian. He was going to college to major in Phys-Ed and Geology. Jamie and I looked at each other and said, “Rocks for jocks.”
Bertha shushed us.
The Valedictorian started his speech with, “I’m going to get real with y’all…” Jamie tuned out. I should have. He went on to discuss how most of his classmates would be failures, and that they had to accept that. It’s life. Be happy with your lot in it… What. The. Fuck?
What. The. Fuck?
Bertha kept up a litany of “Amen,” and “I know that’s right.” I wanted to scream. Vomit. Make a huge scene. But, it was Ryan’s day–I kept telling myself this. It became a mantra.
Finally, mercifully, they began calling the graduates to receive their diplomas. about fifty students in, the assistant principal stopped the process, pointed into the sea of caps and gowns and said… “Don’t think I can’t pull you out of this line! Just because you’re graduating, don’t think I can’t punish you!”
Um, ok. To my horror, she did this three different times. Bertha was on her side, “You tell ’em what’s what!” she shouted.
Jamie and I silently agreed that as soon as Ryan walked across the stage, we were out. We’d be ahead of the crowd. We were lucky in that Ryan was before Bertha’s grandson in line and we were spared the air horn encore.
We made our way across the wet grass, by the concession stand (that was doing booming business), to the stairs out when I heard the principal dismiss the graduates. Wait, what?
Jamie kept walking.
I said, “They aren’t graduates yet. No one has conferred degrees.” This is a part of the ceremony. In my job, I attend four graduations a year. I know how it is supposed to work.
The not-yet-graduates threw their caps, as tradition requires.
The superintendent, who had obviously been to other graduations said, “No! Wait! We must confer the degrees! The tassel must be moved from left to right!”
The not-yet-graduates scrambled for a cap–any cap!
Jamie and I kept walking. We sent Ryan a text telling him where the car was…
We took him to Texas de Brazil for lunch (a post about that soon on Things that Bring Me Joy).
So he’s all graduated! And we survived.