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pomp and circumstance

May 25, 2010


My youngest sister graduated from high school this week, in the basketball palace of Arkansas and a ceremony at least 900 students long. There were songs (from a choir!), speeches (from auditions!), binoculars and air horns, and long lines in and out. A friendly usher inspected my purse. I read the program, watched the procession and counted carefully to tell which purple-cloaked kid was my sister.

It was nothing new and no surprise – it was the big high school graduation of movies and TV, and another sister walked in one just like it a couple of years ago.

But it wasn’t much like the ceremony at my high school alma mater, where the gym was big enough to hold everyone. I played Pomp and Circumstance from seventh grade on, for every commencement thereafter, including my sister’s and brother’s (he played for mine), on an unamplified upright piano. One row of chairs – in my case, 18 – held each graduating class.

There was a valedictorian, salutatorian, a historian and not a lot of pomp. When I graduated, I’d been in school with half my class for 13 years – long enough to remember some of the boys peeing on the playground. The class historian started with the nine of us in kindergarten and moved up grade by grade, adding classmates and revisiting our teachers, best and most bizarre field trips (to a nearby hospital, the city fire department and jail, a chicken hatchery), injuries (cracked head during pickle-eating contest) and antics.

My brother was in the last graduating class from our high school, which was so small it closed its doors and consolidated with another district. The buildings now sit mostly empty and unused, and I drive by them twice every day. The hallways of the high school are still hung with fifty-something years of class pictures that would make it fun for a reunion, if we ever have one.

Sometime when she’s visiting, I’ll make my sister go back to high school with me, to laugh at the pictures and carpet and window units.

Graduation stories, anyone?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2010 3:57 pm

    High school graduation. It seems like a lifetime ago. Like you I live in the town with my alma mater, pass it often. It’s still alive and well. Our graduation was/is always in the fall, Thanksgiving Weekend. I remember it was a very special and surprising night for me. Wow to be able to capture the excitement of that time again.

  2. May 25, 2010 4:01 pm

    My high school was tiny. We had to join with another town in order to get 150 kids per class. But it’s still going strong today!

    I smoked a cigar when I graduated high school. I had also dyed my hair a reddish-purple. It got my picture in the paper but I’m not sure if my parents were actually proud 😉

  3. May 25, 2010 6:20 pm

    Leslie, the things we have in common are getting a little spooky! 🙂 I also have a little sister that is about to graduate high school in a Civic Center, and was also reflecting on my class of 24 and how very different our graduation experiences will be. For my high school, we got to choose the entrance, and of course every class tried to one up the class before. Graduating seniors rode in on horses, fire trucks, leading pot bellied pigs, on bicycles, with a biker gang, and much more. For our year, we talked the local police into bringing the principle and vice principle in a paddy wagon and walking them down the graduation aisle in handcuffs. While that was going on, the Blues Brothers theme started blaring over the speakers and our class came rumbling into the ceremony in hum-vees to “bust them out”. It was always a lot of fun to see what the classes would come up with and was a nice twist to the typical graduation ceremony. Congrats to your little sis!

  4. May 25, 2010 6:38 pm

    I went to a New England prep school for high school and I was in the photo from our graduation ceremony that graced the cover of the glossy alumni magazine. Only the photo wasn’t really of me. It was of the pretty blonde class president and I happened to be standing next to her, making a doofy face, completely unaware that I was being immortalized. The fact of my doofy face didn’t stop my mom from framing the cover and displaying it in her house for the past 15+ years.

    Happy graduation to your sister!

  5. May 25, 2010 9:44 pm

    My high school graduation and my graduate school graduation were held at the same University auditorium. It was surreal remembering my high school memories at my graduate school graduation.

    What I remember most: The throwing of the caps in the air at the end of my high school graduation. I think they ban such things now, but at the time, it was a celebration of our “freedom.” If we knew then what we know now!

    Congrats to your sister!

  6. May 26, 2010 3:26 pm

    I wore purple too. I actually loved my high school, even with it’s many flaws. We started with a class of about 600, but only 400 graduated. Yes, that many kids dropped out or failed back. And my year we had two valedictorians. Not because they tied, but because it really was two school in one building.
    And I remember being told not to throw our caps, but we all did anyway.

  7. May 26, 2010 6:55 pm

    My graduation was pretty standard too. Class of about 200. I also played in the band all 4 years. Flute of course! Man, it seems like forever ago, and yesterday at the same time. My high school has since been turned into an apartment comples. I don’t drive by very often, but when I do, it’s still filled with wonderful memories.

  8. May 27, 2010 11:18 am

    I read your post at Kristen’s site about “grown ups” and loved it so much I had to come visit you over here! I love the line about my mother’s garden was a little too green. I understand that. As a child we appreciate flowers, now I see the beauty in a bunch of kale. I love this poetry for how I grow older. It’s poignant to me.

    I just went to the graduation ceremony at my daughter’s school where she will be graduating next year. Like you, there were 19 chairs on stage. I practiced my tears for next year. I graduated with 700 others. This was a very personal graduation with photo stories about each kid. I know these kids. They were at my home for parties. I’ll miss them.

  9. May 27, 2010 12:16 pm

    I went to a graduation Tuesday night. VERY loud, but otherwise, very well structured. My own elder son graduated in that very place, last year, and my younger will, next year. There are so many who attend our city high school that we require a major downtown facility for graduation each year.

    I found myself very sentimental, as we watched of my kids’ best friends since birth receive her diploma. I sat flanked by each of my sons, watched this young woman whom we have known since all three were babies and played together, and again felt the pit of pride and nostalgia as she took her sheepskin.

    Parents hold different memories alongside the worries and the back stories that assured they got the right teacher, that the punishment meted out for a prank was not disproportionate, that little troubles were kept little, and of course, a different view of the all-nighters as well. The kids? They have their well-earned sources of pride, their stories parents will never hear (just as well), and clearly – memories that are good and bad – as they look forward to more independence.

  10. May 27, 2010 8:04 pm

    The girls in my graduating class had to wear white. White robes, white dresses, white shoes, the works. All I remember is driving around town to every single store looking for something white that didn’t make my tiny high-school self look “fat” (ah, the days of low self-esteem …). But, I still have the blouse I wore, and I still love it (and wear it). =>

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