In twenty minutes the line of blue, black, or red nylon robes will begin marching into the stadium, caps at various angles, and tassels on the left. The first strains of Pomp and Circumstance will choke the throats of every parent in the stands of the stadium. Moms will swipe away the first of many tears; dads will appear calm and stoic until their son or daughter’s name is announced over the P.A. system, when they will let loose a shrill whistle or a loud ‘that’s my kid’.
I will not be in those stands tonight but my heart will be there. For ten years I felt like the adopted parent of a third of those students and I shed my first tear with the beginning march and beamed with pride at each and every name announced. On those nights I had three hundred children, three hundred reasons to applaud and praise.
I had spent four years with each of them and I knew them all. I knew their doubts and fears, their frustrations with teachers, their stressed out anger when their grades dropped and their smiles of pride when they succeeded. I dried their tears when love fell apart, I counseled their decisions and hoped they’d make the right one. I pushed them to take the challenge of advanced classes, nagged them to study harder. I threatened them when they skipped classes. I raced them to the school nurse and accompanied them to the hospital when they over-dosed. I stepped them through their parents’ divorces. I touched their hand when they had a positive pregnancy test. I cried with them and held them when class mates died a tragically young and senseless death.
I dragged them to the school resource officer when they didn’t want to “narc” or press harassment charges and called child protective services after checking out bruises and black eyes. I met them outside the support group meeting and shoved them through the door to their eating disorder group. I listened to them rage at a parent’s incarceration. I bid them good-bye when they were forced to return to their country of origin. I carried balloons to classrooms and loudly announced scholarships and college admissions. I bragged on their role in the school play, the best dance performance of their careers, the winning touchdown, and the half-time performance of the marching band.
I pushed, pulled and prodded thousands of students and sometimes felt I knew them better than the parents they lived with.
And senior year, I counted their credits a dozen or more times making certain their grades and courses would culminate in this last night of their high school careers.
In my mind, I watch with pride and tears as they walk across the stage, accept their diploma with their left hand, shake the hand of the principal with their right, and move their tassel to the left side of their cap as they walk back down the stairs, cameras flashing, horns blaring, friends and family calling their names. I grin; they were listening after all.
Tonight I will not be there but I can visualize it all. Every graduation is the same from start to finish. I can tell you that at 8:20 the principal will give his final speech following the two students chosen to speak to their classmates, after the introductions of the school board members, the pledge, the class gift to the school. And at 8:30 he will say the same words he said last year and all the years before that. I am proud to present these graduating seniors and vouch that they have fulfilled all the requirements of the state of Arizona. The first student whose last name begins with ‘A’ will step forward; each row will rise and sit at the same time. A half hour later caps will fly, parents will rush the field, sad graduation songs will play, and my heart will be there.