Graduation Greatness

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June brings lots of things: Father’s Day, weddings…and graduations.

I had occasion to attend two graduations in the past two weeks and they could not have been at more opposite ends of the spectrum.

One was for my “bonus” granddaughter, Coco, who moved on up from Kindergarten all the way to first grade and the other was for my oldest grandson, Tyler, who finished his four years at De Paul University in Chicago, leaving with honors.

Wow.

Coco calls me “BG” for “Bonus Grandma” and she is one of the sweetest, smartest, prettiest and funniest six-year-olds I have ever met. Her Mom grew up in New Jersey in the same town my kids did and she was friends with both my girls. As fate would have it, we both wound up in Orange County and I “got” Coco as a bonus grandchild!

It was a beautiful, sunny, typical Southern California morning for Coco’s big day. There were three classes “graduating” at her school and I was thrilled to see the excitement in those little ones’ eyes as they marched in, found their places on the outdoor stage, sang a couple of songs complete with hand gestures and were given awards for everything from perfect attendance to most improved.

When the big moment came, our girl walked confidently up on stage to receive her “diploma,” shaking the principal’s hand, posing for a couple of quick snaps and then finding her way back to her place…grinning a semi-toothless grin the whole time.

One of the best parts of the morning was seeing the kids in their outfits.

It ran the gamut for the girls with long frilly and sparkly “gowns” to cute sundresses (which was a good idea since it was rather warm for the 9 a.m. outdoor ceremony)Some of the boys wore suits, some just ties with “dress” shirts and my personal favorite, one little guy who wore a t-shirt that had a tie silk-screened on it. Then, there were sneakers, dress shoes, glitzy sandals and “Mary Janes” with glitter, flip-flops. They were all wearing something “special” for the day.

I was moved by the teachers whose eyes filled with tears as they looked out on “their” boys and girls. As young as they were (and I’d guess there was probably fifty years’ combined experience between them and their aides), you knew that whatever class they had this year was just as wonderful and achieved just as much as the many other classes that preceded these. I got the feeling that to these dedicated (and grossly underpaid) women, this never got old.

Coco made me feel very important that day with her enthusiastic greeting and delicious hugs. She insisted that she sit next to me when we went to a celebratory breakfast after the ceremonies and drew pictures of “us” while we were waiting for our food. Of course I’ve saved them!  It was just a lovely, lovely morning.

Then this past Sunday I found myself at another graduation, one that could not have been any more different.  My oldest grandson, Tyler’s. I flew to Chicago because this was something I was not going to miss.

De Paul University is so large that they need to spread out their graduation ceremonies over a couple of days to accommodate all the students in their various colleges. Tyler’s was scheduled for 8 a.m. at the McCormick Center, which is the largest convention center in the United States.

Of course, being who I am and always planning ahead (admittedly at times, too much ahead), I got up at 4:45 a.m. to get dressed and over there by 6:30 to be on line for when the doors opened at 7 a.m. so I could land some good seats. I was more than happy to do this since I get up early any way and I felt like I was contributing something to the event. I hadn’t paid his tuition, bought his books, or even visited him the four years he was there. This was the best I could do.

I managed to cop seats seven rows up behind the graduates, right in the center. There had to be at least 150 to 200 rows of chairs in four separate sections, so enough seating for several thousand people. I was happy to see that there were big screen TV’s on either side of the stage because my aging eyes would not have otherwise been able to really see what was going on despite the closeness of our seats.

The space darkened, the music started and in came these young men and women, full of knowledge and enthusiasm and probably not a little trepidation as to what the future held for them. It’s a tough time to be a college grad; the job market is more competitive than ever since there are so many experienced folks still looking for employment.

Tyler is 6′ 3″ tall (I know. He is the tallest, by far, of anyone in our family.) After thinking I spotted him coming in a couple of times, there he was, in his blue cap and gown, with his red stole emblazoned with the De Paul emblem. He looked over at us and grinned.

All I saw was the beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed little boy marching in with his classmates for a promotion ceremony at the Somerset Hills Montessori School that he attended until he was six…not the man who was before me. I hated to be so trite, but I had to say to myself over and over “Where has the time gone?”

It seemed like a long time before they got to Tyler’s name but in retrospect, for the number of graduates, the whole morning progressed seamlessly and much quicker than any of us expected. Then there he was, striding across the stage, taking his hard-earned diploma and just like that, this moment that took four long, hard years to achieve, was over.

But then, as I tried not to let my eyes spill over as I saw this handsome young man beaming at us as he returned to his seat, I realized that it really wasn’t over…it was just beginning.

Despite the difference in their years and levels of education, both my loved ones had high levels of graduation greatness! Good luck and God bless, Coco and Tyler!

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