The local high school is holding graduation exercises for its senior class today. Having attended this ceremony twice in recent years, I know that today's event will be somewhat different from the day I graduated from the same school.
As in my day, seniors will be seated in chairs on the basketball floor and guests will be seated in the spectator seats. But instead of being crammed into the school's "small" gym (a larger gym was added a few years after I graduated), the event will be held at the local university's indoor sports arena, which has stadium seating for more than 11,500—quite an improvement over aluminum and wooden benches for 2,000.
Like my high school graduation, some seniors will be dressed under their gowns in cut-offs and tank tops, some will be wearing formal attire, and many will dress as if it's a regular school day. A far lower percentage of graduates and guests will be formally dressed than when I graduated, but some will be dressed up. My #2 son wore full formal Scottish regalia complete with kilt and Prince Charlie jacket.
At my graduation, a couple of goofballs inflated beach balls that had been secreted beneath their gowns. They tossed the balls among the graduating class members until a couple of teachers intercepted the vinyl projectiles. As far as I can tell, today's seniors have been dissuaded from such undignified displays.
But their families haven't. At both of my older sons' graduation ceremonies, a number of audience members acted rather disrespectful by giving loud cheers, throwing streamers and confetti, blowing air horns, using other noise makers, and generally acting obnoxious. Some might argue that this is all the respect a high school graduation deserves.
One thing that won't have changed is the vapid speech making by administrators and top students. I recently overheard a conversation where the individuals were discussing what they wished someone had told them when they graduated instead of the ceremonial drivel that was meted out.
This got me to thinking, "What do I wish someone had told me when I graduated?" It's an intriguing question. But my answer is, "Nothing."
Quite honestly, I was in no state of mind to absorb and process any deeply meaningful admonition. Some say that high school seniors think they already know everything. But it wasn't that. In my callowness, I simply lacked the understanding and interest required for such a task. I don't think it would be uncharitable to suggest that most of my classmates were in the same boat.
My years have taught me that we can rarely recognize gems of wisdom that lie in our path until some life experience shifts our understanding enough to cause us to perceive their value. We may even pick these stones up, examine them, and receive training about them. But we still don't discern them until we must. Even then, we may choose not to do so.
I think that if we could each watch a replay of our senior year in high school, we would be surprised to discover that almost everything we wish someone had told us actually was told to us at that time. But we were not ready to comprehend it.
Still, it may be that repeated exposure to bits of wisdom helps us along the path to their eventual appreciation, even if we fail to value them at present. So, while I in some ways agree with the first line of Paul Simon's song Kodachrome, I also think that there are often gems hidden in the dross.
As a society we appear to understand that just the act of holding a graduation ceremony is worthwhile, even if the accompanying speeches aren't. It is nearly universally understood that it marks a significant transition. The form may be more important than the content.
I don't expect today's graduating seniors to garner any particular enlightenment from the speeches they will hear today any more than I did years ago. But I am certain that many of them will eventually discover great insights that were initially instilled during their school years—even if they must sift through dreck to arrive at that point.