Graduates can never appreciate what that means until later, ‘a later that is still to come’
By George Valadie
For a school principal such as myself, it’s impossible to ignore the opportunity to write about this season of graduations.
It’s why we teachers do what we do. Be it the wee ones in kindergarten who sway their heads and swing their tassels or our own seniors who couldn’t wait to frisbee their caps to the ceiling, it doesn’t really matter; it’s the kind of day that keeps me doing what I do.
There’s a mountain of work to make it all happen for sure. The flowers, the Mass, the music, the programs, the place, the time, the details. It’s the dedication of many that gets them across that stage.
And that doesn’t begin to measure the years of effort involved to get them right to the edge of it.
And there is a difference.
I really loved this year’s group, though they’re not dissimilar to the classes before them. I’d love to tell you that they are in fact the greatest kids the world will ever see. That they’ve been perfect students. That they’ve been ideal role models for the younger ones still to follow.
But then I’d be somewhere between lying and unfairly insulting the classes before them. But if we’ve got to turn them loose with the future of the planet at stake, I’d bet on these young people as giving us as good a chance as any.
And I’d bet heavy.
Still, teenagers can be strange creatures. The things you hope they get excited about, well, we’re usually wrong.
Except for this one day.
In so many ways, they’re like the many before them who have finally arrived at this moment. They’re visibly excited, some almost giddy, torn between wanting to run out the door and fearful of what waits on the other side.
For the ceremonies, most really are anxious to look nice, so much so that there’s always one who forgets to show up with cap or gown or both.
For the processions, they really do want to turn the right way at the right time, though they could never seem to focus when we rehearsed. Somehow, right and left apparently get confusing once you’ve donned the cap and gown of accomplishment.
And when I told them to line up alphabetically . . . well, it made me question the quality of the education we have given them.
They worry they’ll confuse which of their hands to extend for the handshake and which should accept the diploma. And where did you say we should be? And what time do we need to be there?
And except for their fear of tripping down the steps, there’s a look of confidence and accomplishment in those eyes we didn’t see when they were freshmen.
They feel ready; we feel proud.
Like most senior classes, this year began with them asking permission to design a senior T-shirt with all 105 names on it. We always give them the go-ahead with but one caveat: make sure you keep it clean. They’re seniors, not saints.
I don’t think it made this year’s final cut, too cliché for most, but someone always votes in favor of Dr. Seuss’s famous Oh, the Places You’ll Go.
Copyright issues aside, I think that would have been the perfect choice.
But I also know they can never appreciate now what such a motto might mean to them later. A later that is still to come.
There’s the literal translation of his phrase. The one that ponders the geographical places of their future.
After all, for four years they’ve come to the same place and parked in the same lot, littered the same locker, and walked down the same halls. They eat the same lunch while sitting at the same table—every day.
But it’s time for them to get out and go to some of those new places; at least I know it’s time for them to go somewhere.
And they will. Before the leaves even fall off the autumn trees, their lives will be so different. Their home will become a dorm, and their classroom will become a campus.
But the man’s books were pure genius since this oft-quoted classic was never intended to be merely about the “physical places” they might go.
Eventually, some will find the one true love of their lives, and some will find more than one.
Some can already see their role in the world, but some will have roles the world has yet to envision.
Some will be forced to battle what surely seems like an unfair share of life’s tragedies, while others will unexplainably be spared. Some will question their God. Some will live for him.
There’s no way to count— nor even imagine—the number of humans they will meet and how many of those will change them forever.
Some will make a valiant effort to save their little corner of the world. Some will be in need of the saving.
All in all, they’re incapable of even imagining all the places they will go. They’re just darn excited about going.
And for that, I’m jealous. I mean, who among us wouldn’t want to wake up tomorrow with that very same feeling? Anticipating the unknown. Thrilled and anxious. Fearless and fearful. Elated to move out. Thrilled to move on.
I mean honestly, when was the last time you felt just like that?
Dear God—They always leave us, whether they’re ready or not. Whether we’re ready or not. Please let the places they go be good ones. Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.