A hopeful view of the future
From the Scenic Route
It is graduation time, season of the folding chair and pithy speeches. I’m at a high school awards banquet, scholarship envelope in hand, waiting my turn at the podium. When it comes, the master of ceremonies introduces me as a “regular person.” I couldn’t be more pleased, for I have sometimes suspected that I am not, but rather, sort of irregular—not shaped to fit in, as it were.
What the counselor really meant to say was that I am a regular presenter at this annual banquet, at which I have been privileged to give scholarships from various groups to deserving young men and women for a number of years—encouragement in the form of recognition for their past and money for their future.
It’s not my money—at least not the very large majority of it—that I pass on to these children. I just happen to be the lucky guy who delivers it. Over the years, it has come from several different sources, and I would bet that any of the sources would assert that it doesn’t matter as much where it came from as where it’s going.
“So,” I hear you thinking, “are they children or young men and women?” It’s hard to tell, sometimes, for they are both, caught on the sharp edge of independence, some more to one side than the other, and some feeling as if they are being sliced in two by the process of home-leaving. We presenters try to ease the passage with certificates and checks—and pithy speeches.
Focus is on the cadre at the front of the room, tightly packed together at a couple of big tables, some slouching, some leaning on the table or each other, but all attentive to whoever’s turn it is at the podium. After all, the speakers, each and all, are talking about, and often to, them. This is their night, one of the last times they will be together as a cohesive group. Next is graduation, and after that... ? Well, who knows?
Some have a fair idea. The Navy. Australia. BYU. University of Idaho. The city down the road. New Zealand. Diesel mechanic school. Some don’t know yet, and may never, but they all know that soon they won’t be able come back to where they are tonight, except as visitors—or, maybe in a few years, as a new teacher who’s “come home,” not a bad fate for them or the school, for it is a school which needs—and has—teachers who care. And these kids already know how to care. They care about each other.
It is a small school. Total attendance in six grades, 7 through 12, is about 120. This year’s graduating class is made up of about 20. The members of a smaller junior class serve dinner and then tell stories about the seniors, one soon-to-be graduate at a time. Some, it is apparent, didn’t know their subject well before beginning their research for this assignment. On the other hand, brothers fete brothers, and best friends confess the impending missing. Intimate and funny details of life as high school friends are revealed.
Many of these young people have known each other since forever. One junior girl tells a story about “when you were six and I was five.” Others just got here—some by a very circuitous route—in time to spend their last years, or year, as part of this class. To look at them, you could not guess which is which, for they are bound together in a friendship that might not survive in a larger school. They are The Class of 2011, and there will never be another like them. They know it. Their teachers know it. Their imminent dissolution is both poignant and exciting, and farther back in the gymnasium are teary-eyed adults feeling growing pangs of umbilicum separatum and an attentive group of underclassmen leaning into the forming void that will left by the seniors’ departure.
Anyone here tonight who reads this later might recognize the exact school this happened in, but something much like this also happened in other schools across the country—tonight, last night, and it will happen again tomorrow night, this year, next year and in years to come.
I’m glad to be a regular person at these homegrown celebrations of achievement. To fit, however briefly, into the lives of these children, and bear witness to their joy in the present and their hopeful view to the future reminds me that all is not lost, that at least one group of people believes we can survive ourselves. And, tonight, there are similar groups with the same radical thought all over the country.