As a kid, I went to high school ball games with my dad. All of them.
He did the play-by-play for football, basketball and baseball for our local radio station, where he was the manager. My job was to help him stay awake on those long road trips by talking incessantly.
I blame two of my many personality disorders on that formative era: a compulsive desire to watch sports, and an inability to keep my mouth shut.
I’m pretty sure the mouth thing is getting better. Being married has helped a lot. Having kids helps even more.
The sports thing is a work in progress.
I can watch almost any sport, any time, live or televised, whether I know anyone competing or not. I was never much of an athlete, but still I lose myself in the struggle, the strategy, the personalities, the energy.
I’m not sure if that’s a gift or a curse – but every year at this time it occurs to me that I’m the same way about graduations.
Whether I know anyone crossing the stage or not, I get emotional when high school kids in those flowing academic robes and flat hats go through the final ceremony of their K-12 academic careers, pick up that diploma and move on.
It’s a tremendously significant milestone.
It’s happening right now, all over Wise County, and all over America. Another crop of young people is maturing, getting ready to head for college, go to work, join the military, get married, start their careers.
Thirteen years of sitting in classrooms, running on playgrounds, marching at halftime, singing in the choir, welding in shop class, pledging allegiance to the flag – it’s over. We’ve given them what we owe every American child, and now it’s their turn to step out and see what they can do with it.
Graduation, like marriage, is merely a ceremony, but it’s one that ushers you into another state of being.
It’s an hour or so of your life – but your life is never the same after it’s over.
The event itself is rarely memorable. The songs are the same. The routine is pretty much the same. The speeches are long strings of clich s (a short string of clich s is considered a great speech). The robes are generic, and the hats are something you’re never going to wear again.
In your life. Ever.
But before the ceremony, you were a kid in school. After, you’re not.
School tends to be about conformity: stand in line, don’t talk, turn in your work, color inside the lines, run your laps, don’t be tardy.
Even in their efforts to be unique, kids often wind up conforming with this crowd or that crowd. From clothes and hairstyles to tattoos and piercings, the music they listen to, the way they talk, what they read and watch and worship, young people struggle to define themselves.
The instant they cross the stage, all that goes away. A world evaporates.
Peer pressure is never the same because their peers are not the same. The pond gets infinitely bigger, and suddenly they can see it’s not those external things that make them unique.
They begin to define themselves on their own terms. They realize a road stretches out endlessly before them, and they’re not being driven – they’re driving.
It’s my prayer that for every graduate, every diploma comes with the realization that uniqueness is bound up in your soul, in the sacrificial love of an eternal God who knows every hair on your head and loves you because he made you.
And he has a place for you, a job for you to do.
Every crop of kids, every year, needs to know that.
We’re watching – with love and hope.
Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.