Two weeks ago I attended my grandson’s high school graduation in Denver, a gloriously beautiful ceremony held in the Red Rocks amphitheater—an incredible piece of work that God chiseled out of a mountain-side and a venue more accustomed to holding loud and unruly rock concerts for 60,000 fans rather than the 3,000 proud and sober parents and relatives attending the ceremony for the senior class at Green Mountain High School.
First of all, I was surprised—and deeply impressed—that the ceremony could be so awesome and inspirational. (Of course, how could it not have been with Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” blossoming from the school’s 60-piece orchestra.) But at least six of the top students gave speeches that were anything but dull. The comeraderie was real and enjoyable. And the weather was perfect for the thousands of cameras in the audience ranging from those taking cell phone snapshots to $10,000 Nikons seeking masterpieces.
But I don’t think I am alone in admitting that graduation is a time for allowing for some selfish pride as we remember our own graduations, compare them, and, perhaps for the more fortunate among us, lean back and revel in them.
During the Red Rocks ceremony my mind wandered back to high school and my own graduation. World War II had just ended. Half the senior class was Jewish and a couple were going to the new state of Israel to work in Kibbutzes. Most of us had been together since elementary school, including Mavis Nathan who had been sent to us from England to avoid the blitz. As president of the senior class I had to give a speech, the opening sentence of which I remember to this day but not one other thought or word. Just as well—I’m sure it set a new standard for triteness.
Some jokers in the class started singing what they called our class song, which (I am not kidding here.) was Maresy Doates. (“Maresy Doates and Does Eat Oates and Little Lambs Eat Ivy. A kid will eat Ivy, too”) Please do not question me about this runaway pop hit and its lyrics—their ridiculousness bothered us just as much back then. This ‘song’ soon gave way to the more sentimental “On the Sunny Side of the Street”—far more appropriate to our futures.
When it came to relationships we were saying goodbye to friends and opening ourselves to future considerations. My girlfriend and I kissed goodbye and although we were going to colleges in neighboring states we agreed to stay close. (We didn’t.)
The only thing I remember about my Midwestern college graduation was driving afterwards to South Dakota to meet the parents of the beauty queen who was to become my wife in a marriage that would last forever. (It didn’t.)
Later I received my masters in journalism from Columbia but missed the graduation ceremony entirely. All the guys were being drafted into the Korean War and we were urged to grab a job and get some experience before reporting for duty.
Comparing my own graduations to ceremonies happening today, the thing I miss most was the spirit of the times. In the late 1940s and early 1950s there was a feeling of relief in the air plus a genuine appreciation of freedom and government and everything that our flag stood for. Our nation had emerged victorious in the most horrible war in the history of mankind. Maybe we didn’t appreciate it fully as we marched down the aisle but it was there—believe me. And all of our futures looked even brighter than the words pouring from the mouths of the guest speakers.
I wish I could say that about the ceremony I attended two weeks ago. I’m sure that more than one person in the audience shared my feeling of loss and dismay regarding the nature of times we live in. As for the rest of all of you happy young graduates who are perhaps better off for not realizing what you are missing—and to my own grandson—dig in and best of luck.