At approximately noon on Sunday, May 17th in Washington, D.C. my wife and I officially became parents of a college graduate for the first time. Sitting in front of the U.S. Capitol where members of the George Washington University Class of 2010 assembled under a cloudless sky, we watched with a jumble of emotions, mostly pride, as our oldest daughter stepped further away from her parents and childhood and processed off the National Mall and into her future and adulthood. Yes, I told our youngest daughter seated next to me, the bright sun’s angle caused my eyes to tear up. Well, sort of.
As a high school principal and now as superintendent I have presided over 14 graduation ceremonies, signed about 4,500 diplomas, and endured countless commencement speeches, a couple of them my own. I fretted about weather on the big day and worried if we had enough seats for grandmothers and uncles. Pomp and Circumstance is practically the National Anthem of school and college administrators, and it rings in our ears reminding us of some little graduation detail we have neglected to attend to (Did I spell the School Committee Chair’s name correctly in the program? Did we ask for a traffic detail?). I chew my nails a lot in May and June, and I am relieved when the last grad, fists pumping, runs off the stage to the thunderous cheers of his friends and family. It’s over! I sigh. And no one did anything embarrassing!
This time, though, sitting on the National Mall I was not so anxious for the ceremony to conclude. This time I was not an officious administrator, and as parents and family we lingered, snapping photos, and congratulated other parents and graduates as the afternoon wore on. We laughed and joked, and we commented on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Commencement address (Thumbs up, we all agreed.). We watched as thousands strolled past, stopping for hugs and handshakes along the way. I enjoyed this moment in our lives and saw no reason to hurry. Of course, the college officials and professors made a polite but hasty exit, their academic robes and regalia flying in the wind as they raced toward the Metro or waiting cars; they wanted to get home to their families. I smiled because I understood.
This time, though, my family was together, and I was celebrating and not officiating. There we were—Karen and I and our three incredible daughters, one clad in black, diploma in hand, all grown up. How could anyone rush from this tableau and not take the time to notice the stunning brilliance and beauty of thousands of young people, all eager to take on the world? Countless stories and struggles, freshly minted degrees, untold opportunities ahead, and energy to light up New York. I got to be Dad this time and it felt great to luxuriate in the moment and take in the scene around me.
In a few weeks the Needham High School Class of 2010 will take to the stage and, once again, the principal and I will fret about distant drizzle and missing mortarboards. We will call each other about fifteen times on Graduation Day checking in on humidity, security, and our own sanity. We will be thrilled and exhausted when the ceremony goes off smoothly and parents are beaming as the sun sets on Memorial Field.
But this time, instead of rushing off, maybe I will hang back a few minutes longer to take it all in. You see, I don’t have a child in the Needham High School Class of ’10, but I am a parent and it’s a good thing every once and a while to slow down and remember that and remember what Graduation is really all about.
To the Class of 2010: Congratulations!
To their (us) parents: Savor this time with our remarkable sons and daughters.