After spending two thirds of my life, and all of my adult life with kids, I have become well aware that there is ‘cool’ and ‘not cool’, cool events, cool people, cool ways of handling situations. There is also rad, ‘cheesy’ (very un-cool), hot (when cool is taken to extremes it becomes ‘hot’, and more recently ‘sick’.) Sick is fantastically cool. It took me a while to get that one, the first time one of my kids’ friends said I looked sick, I was seriously worried and wondered if I’d been working too hard or was ill and didn’t know it—until I got the translation. Whew! Sick!
Cool can of course vary from one person to another. (When I wear what I think is something cool, I am told it looks awful, until my kids take it from me, and when they wear it, it becomes vintage, which is extremely cool.) I am not officially cool, but once in a while, on a good day, I have my lucky moments (though admittedly, not often).
And in recent years, I have discovered that the venerable tradition of graduation (from college particularly) is subject to the cool laws. One of my ‘coolest’ daughters graduated with enthusiasm and glee a few years ago. We all went to Washington, DC for the event, the entire family cheered and yelled and generally embarrassed her when she was handed her diploma. It was one of those great moments you remember forever, and we had a ball. It was super cool, and totally terrific! No one in the family thought it ‘un-cool’ that she ‘walked’ at graduation. What a fantastic moment of achievement, and we were all so proud of her!
Two years ago, her younger sister was next in line for graduation. Yippee, I thought, this time we would all go to Southern California, yell, scream, cheer, celebrate, I would shed a few tears of joy and pride to see her in her cap and gown….no such luck. Yerghk, she said, how ‘cheesy’. In her opinion, graduation, and walking up to get her diploma, was totally un-cool. I did everything I could to coerce her and convince her to give us this special moment, and herself this wonderful memory of her great achievement. No way. She flatly refused, and in her opinion, walking at graduation just was not cool. She finished her last class, took her last final, delivered her senior thesis, packed up and moved to New York. No cap and gown for her. I was really, really disappointed. Until then, all of my children had attended their graduations, and I felt cheated of hers. l She never seemed to regret it.
The following year (last year), another of my daughters was due to graduate. Same deal. She informed us that walking at graduation was so un-cool she wouldn’t consider it for a moment, and we got cheated of The Big Moment again. Nothing I said could convince her, not even begging. And I thought it was a really depressing new trend, of blasé indifference to such a remarkable accomplishment. I was really disappointed, again.
So this year, when my youngest son was due to graduate, I was no longer surprised when he told me it was a ‘meaningless tradition’, and he had no intention of walking at graduation. Yeah, yeah, I know, not cool, “cheesy”, etc, spare me. I nagged him for an appropriate length of time (several months) to no avail, and figured I’d never see another of my kids in cap and gown. Graduation in our family appeared to be history. But I continued to push, nag, and try to convince, just for good measure, and so did his siblings. Even the two sisters who had thought their own graduations un-cool insisted that he should do it. And lo and behold, miracle of miracles, about a month before graduation he announced that he was going to walk at graduation. Hallelujah!! We got plane reservations for his siblings in other cities, made plans, organized a lunch for him, and begged, borrowed and nearly stole enough tickets for all of us to be there. With so many kids, it is always hard to get enough tickets for events like that. Eight kids, 3 of them married, his father and I, we are a small army, and most schools only give you 2 or 4 tickets for graduation. We needed a dozen! And we got them! And we were all wildly excited that he was going to graduate (with a 4.0 GPA, on the Dean’s List! Wow!), and we were going to be able to see him do it, he wasn’t going to be at home watching video games on graduation day, he was actually going to be there in cap and gown! How cool is that! Very!
The big day came (after he came to try on his cap and gown for us the day before, and we all fussed over him—-not cool, but fun!!), and it was an absolutely gorgeous graduation. I’ve been to many by now (minus two). Two of my kids (the two oldest) went to Princeton, and it was a very impressive ceremony, some of which was even in Latin (which the graduates pretended to understand and laughed on cue). The ‘hottest’ one I’ve been to was at Connecticut College in the blistering sun, in 100 degree weather, when we all nearly got sunstroke and my then 3 year old threw up (she was the first on to refuse to go to her own graduation—could that be why? Marked in childhood by a graduation ceremony in deadly heat? Who knows). I’ve been to my oldest daughter’s graduate school graduation at Stanford, which was also impressive. But this one was the most beautiful ceremony I’ve ever been to. My son graduated from a Jesuit college, and the ceremony was in the spectacularly beautiful St. Ignatius Church, which is the size of a cathedral. The students and their families filled the church. The professors filed in, in their caps and gowns, with the colors of their respective schools in the scarves and collars they wore. And then the graduates filed into the church in theirs. It was simply gorgeous.
The ceremony was deeply moving, the speech was impressive. Everyone wished them well, the graduates themselves were ecstatic, laughing and whispering and beaming, their shining faces so young and proud, and all of us so proud of them. Many of them wore leis of celebration in brilliant colors. And I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sense that they are starting out in life, with so much ahead of them. Good times, hard ones, careers that will hopefully reward them, one day perhaps marriage, children of their own. It was such a landmark event, a milestone, like watching a beautiful ship set said as it leaves the shipyard, so new, so vibrant, so many good things in store, and hopefully only a few hard ones. I was deeply moved.
And here was my bright shining boy, beaming, so excited and happy, and filled with joy to be there and all of us so proud of him. It was one of life’s great moments. As all parents say, it seems like only yesterday when he was tiny, or in kindergarten. I kept remembering the little blue knit outfit he wore when he came home from the hospital when he was born, and suddenly there he was in cap and gown, beaming at us, so young and tall and handsome….and let me tell you, it was very, very, very cool. And we all agreed that it was one of life’s rare and truly priceless moments. I’m so glad that he decided to attend his graduation! And I hope that that resolves the matter in this family once and for all. As it turns out, walking at graduation is cool after all!! (I just hope my youngest daughter remembers that when she graduates in two years). The news is out: walking at graduation is cool again! Whew! What a relief!!