High school seniors said goodbye to their alma maters this past week, to embark on a journey wide-eyed and, in many cases, with timid first steps. The anxiety over the last of those final exams only just eased before slipping on the cap and gown, and walking the floor to the sound of pomp and circumstance. The tradition and pageantry is often lost on the young adults in the midst of it all. But, for the adults, it speaks towards memories of times gone by, and an affirmation to shared wisdom.
At one of the many graduation ceremonies this week was a young man seated in the back, not yet old enough to be in high school. As the valedictorian spoke to her classmates, the boy’s father tapped him on the shoulder. The young woman stood up before her classmates, heads and shoulders above them. Years of hard work, dedication and discipline to obtain good grades to earn the honor of being head of the class.
“Listen up,” said the father to his son.
High school years are defined by fears. Worries over tests. Anxiety over rejection. Concerns about the unknown. How you see life at 14 may not be so different than when you’re 18. The world, and the players within it, are changing. At 18, though, that world is a little bigger.
Remember being 18 and listening to speeches that spoke of growth and perseverance and potential. How it all sounded tired and worn. The school administrators must share the same speech year after year, you thought. And, how puzzled you were at the unfamiliar look in your teachers’ eyes as you walked to the stage. The valedictorian spoke of those fears but said, “limitations are born only from within.” The father glanced over at his son, his nose deep into his phone.
Father and son walked out of the gymnasium together. Dad put his hand on his son’s shoulder and asked him what he took away from it all. The son shrugged. The boy’s smart. He said to his father, “If I keep my grade point average up, that will be me on that stage.” The father nodded as they walked towards the car.
Some people define their lives by fears. Worries over money. Anxiety over bills. Concerns about the unknown. How you see life at 18 may not be so different than when you’re 43. The world, and the players within it, have changed. At 43, though, that world is a little bigger.
“Son, I’m not too hard on you when it comes to grades,” he said. “I’m behind you, pass or fail, so long as you do your best. Your lessons help you learn what you want to do after school. The hard work you put into it helps you become the person you’re going to be. Somewhere in between, you have to understand, if there is something you want in life, you have to go after it. Only you can keep yourself from doing it.”
The son looked up from his phone.
“Half the kids in that gym don’t understand that,” said the father. “They think that speech was just lip service. But, the other half, the kids standing on the stage graduating with honors, they were listening. I guarantee you, they understood.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.