Thursday, May 28, 2009

One Down, Four to Go

My oldest son graduated from high school yesterday. On the way home from the graduation exercises he said, “Well, I survived compulsory government education.”

The graduation exercises lasted two hours. It had its dignified moments, but overall it was far less dignified than when I graduated from the same high school years ago. The event reflected the continuing trend of culture becoming increasingly casual.

Some of the spectators were dressed more formally, as had been the case with almost all of the audience members back in my day. Most were dressed more casually. Some were dressed far more casually, like they were going out to work in the yard or perhaps troll for business in the red light zone.

The administrator that introduced the valedictorian seems to have thought that he had been asked to give a full-fledged speech. The valedictorian’s speech was puerile and somewhat disjointed, proving that you don’t have to be a good speechmaker to achieve academic excellence. The salutatorian’s speech was very good for an 18-year-old. The administrator speeches were bland and forgettable.

As the graduating seniors took their turns walking across the stage each receiving an empty diploma case (to be filled later upon returning the rented gown), various audience members took turns applauding those in whom they had interest. Some rousing acknowledgements were quite unseemly. Some of the rowdy actors were parents of graduates.

One of the school’s choirs sang beautifully, but it seems that the auditorium’s sound system had been poorly rigged so that it didn’t pick up their voices properly. The well performed songs were swallowed in the vastness of the arena.

On the way home, I remarked to my wife and son that the baccalaureate exercise the previous evening had been a much more enjoyable event. We went to that event not expecting much. After the opening, Mike Schlappi was introduced as the speaker. (Warning: linked website plays continuous music.) We were told that Schlappi had been on the US Olympic wheelchair basketball team and had won two gold medals and two bronze medals.

Schlappi wheeled out and began speaking, dropping some rather humorous lines. Then he told the tragic story of how he became paralyzed from the chest down at age 15 when a friend and neighbor shot him with a supposedly unloaded pistol as part of a joke.

For the next hour the audience was held in the thrall of tales of difficulties faced, challenges overcome, amazing people, and admonitions about how to deal with your own challenges. Although we were seated on metal grandstand benches, no one was wiggly. I walked out of there feeling fantastic.

I came away with several messages. When crap happens in your life, it doesn’t really matter who is to blame. What does matter is taking personal responsibility for making the absolute best of whatever situation you are in. Each of us has amazing power to improve the lives of others by doing simple things that demonstrate genuine human respect.

My son’s graduation exercise was a momentous event, even if it was occasionally boring and undignified. It was a significant public rite of passage. My son’s baccalaureate event was an uplifting and ennobling experience that will likely have long lasting impact on the lives of many that were in attendance.

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