Sunday, June 21, 2009

In My Life

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

I've been thinking about high school lately, and I'm vaguely disturbed that I just don't really remember it. Part of the signup process for Facebook is putting in your high school and your graduating year. Then it gives you a long list of people from your graduating class who've already signed up so you can "friend" them. I scrolled through pages and pages of that list and only recognized two names. And I only vaguely recall the person attached to just one of those names.

Of course, Aerie joined Facebook, too, and went through the same process. Her list perusal was punctuated with frequent, "Oh, wow"s and "I know him!"s. Now she gets a dozen emails a day notifying her of Facebook messages from the friends she had in high school and college. Good thing it's not a competition, because she's way more popular than I am.

I just don't remember it. I don't have a high school year book to flip through. I didn't go to my graduation. I don't remember teacher names. Even my creative writing teacher, who actually meant something to me at the time, I can only really remember her name, and only that because I was reminded of it by that one Facebook friend.

So anyway, I was wondering if that's normal. Do most people remember high school? I mean, I know that repetition improves the transfer from short-term memory to long-term memory. We remember the things that we come back to in our thoughts again and again. And I've thought about those days and those people, with a few exceptions, almost not at all in nearly twenty years. Then a couple of weeks ago, I worked a marathon session of high school graduations. I worked several different positions over the two days, so I got to see things from multiple directions. At the doors, I watched the families, the parents and grandparents, come in. On the floor, I watched the students and faculty.

I never really regretted skipping my graduation, and I still don't. At least one speechmaker at every ceremony describes this class as unique and the best the school has ever seen. Every valedictorian touches on the same elements of ending and especially beginning, of responsibility to the future. Some with more humor; some with more pathos. The bands and choirs all performed with pomp, and with circumstance, and with much dignity. By far, the best arrangement I heard was an a cappella version of the Beatles' "In My Life." I almost welled up for a minute there.

I watched the faces of the graduates as they queued up right in front of me, waiting their chance to cross the stage. I looked for something in those faces; a sign that they were no longer children, perhaps, or that they felt the weight of the occasion and the new maturity and responsibility it heralded. I didn't really see anything there. Some were nervous. Some excited. Some thoughtful. Some bored. Faculty and administrators worked the lines, checking in on the particularly nervous-looking, perhaps to nip any vomiting or fainting incidents in the bud. They shook hands with some students as they passed; they hugged and laughed and reminisced with others. And others got only a polite smile. I thought that would have been me, the one who got only a polite smile.

Strangest of all, though, was the uniform handling of "special needs" students. In every school that I saw, they were segregated. For one school, they were seated separately, off to the side, with a cadre of faculty handlers flanking them, while the rest of the population sat en masse in the center of the floor. For another school, they were seated among the other students, but still segregated, grouped together and again flanked by faculty like bodyguards. In each case, they were carefully inserted into the alphabetical listing when their turn to cross the stage came, but after they were photographed on the far side, they were removed from the alphabetical listing and returned to their corrals.

One of the faculty serving as a special needs bodyguard caught my eye. He was young, white, conspicuously sunburned in the face, and sporting corn rows. For some reason. He struck me as trying to be more like one of the students than one of the teachers, and I wondered what subject he taught and how many of his students he's slept with. Then I felt ashamed of myself and wondered if that was a recurring burden for him in his professional life, having to deal with that same prejudice from parents, administrators, and colleagues. I thought of the guy in my dad's group whose children were approached by a mom on the playground and interrogated about whether that man was their father or not. I should've had more male solidarity with that teacher. But in the end, he still seemed kind of creepy.

And there was singing of school songs and playing of sentimental photo montages over touching music and much talk in the speeches of school pride and remembering these days for the rest of their lives. I thought of the University commencements that had taken place the week before, and how high school spirit and songs and traditions will for many of these kids be quite soon replaced with those of their colleges, and new friends made and new connections forged. But what occurred to me in a way that never had before was that the day was more for the parents than for the students. They jockeyed for seats, sometimes even devolving into pushing and shouting matches. They crowded the aisles for pictures. Their arms were loaded with balloons and flowers.

So while it wasn't an event that was important to me, my graduation may have meant something to my parents. If it did, then I stole that experience from them. I'm sorry, Mom and Dad.


Purelight said...

Not to worry at this late date, Son--it was only a very small disappointment, not a surprise, and your decision to make. We had our chance to be publicly proud when we made the long car trip to Boston to see you walk it, to take the picture, and to be amazed at how blatantly rude your graduating class was to your keynote guest speaker. Ah, the memories!

Happy Father's Day!


swsil said...

I remember high school but perhaps it is because that is where I met the most important part of my future. Perhaps college was that for you?

I, Rodius said...

Very true. College meant more to me than high school for a lot of reasons, but that's the biggest.

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