Ann Melvin Dallas Morning News 1998 Column on Graduation
The tumult dies.
The graduating seniors in their Ford pickups and secondhand Nissans depart.
For jobs, for the pool, for Grandma’s, for college, for a last, long loopy summer.
Or until they need their clothes washed, whichever comes first.
Growing up a child is a series of leave-takings, from the first wobbly step away from the parent’s hand to the first day at school to the first slumber party to the first time he drives out of the driveway with a license.
But high school graduation is a leave-taking of high celebration and of irrefutable recognition that the child will be gone soon.
Too soon, when you remember the night we ran across the dark yard and laughed in pursuit of fireflies. Or the summer evening we drove through St. Louis and rolled down the windows as we crossed the Mississippi, singing “Ole Man River.”
Too soon, when you hear the back door slam and the call, “Mom, I’m home.”
And too soon when you review your own inadequacies as a parent.
As the slow line of caps and gowns files by, the parent sits suffused with pride and fear. “Doesn’t he look handsome?” mingles with a collage of worry:
“When was the last time we talked about God? Nietzsche? The balance of trade? Does he know how to balance a checkbook? Can she check the oil in her car? What about Winston Churchill and ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’ and Aunt Maggie, who worked as a welder during World War II? Did we tell ‘em that?”
Parents universally want to stand up and holler, “Stop, these kids don’t know enough yet. They don’t fasten the twistie on the bread sack or hang up their clothes or put the milk back in the refrigerator, and you want to turn them out on the world?? Stop!! I forgot to make sure that he prays every night and that she understands HMOs, Social Security and the Roman influence on modern jurisprudence, and did I tell him often enough that I love him?”
“Another year, I need another year.”
But the caps are in the air, the gowns are back in the rental barrel, and we all are standing out on the sidewalk, smiling and crying. Then we go home.
An old carnation begins to shrivel on the bedroom mirror. Notes paper the wall around the telephone, and schedules are leafed like shingles on the refrigerator.
Dress shoes lie askew under the chair, the celebration ham gives up leftovers, and old snapshots spill out of a shoebox on the table.
The first baseball uniform, Christmas at Grandma’s, the seventh-grade gang posing in front of the school bus at the Alamo, the first bicycle with training wheels, party photos from the prom . . . a Kodak collection of split seconds in the start of what you pray will be a good life.
The graduate is in the driveway, leaving again.
You go out, moved to speak your mind.
“I hope you were happy,” you want to say. “I hope life will go well for you. I hope you know I tried my best, and while I know it wasn’t always perfect, I tried to do the best I could for you. Whatever you have learned from me, it isn’t enough, not about life or the world or anything.”
“But I hope you can stand on my shoulders, reach higher and go farther with the little boost I gave you.”
Instead you say, “Do you have enough money? Fasten your seat belt. And call me when you get there.”
Wherever that may be.