Maybe it’s because I was sick all last week.Nothing like a case of the springtime crud to really send you de-evolving into a couch-bound slug staring at the television and occasionally issuing a dull moo that echoes off the walls of your place that’s slowly filling up with grease-stained fast food bags, empty Puffs boxes, and those little Nyquil cups.
No one ever likes being sick, but this time I really had a reason to be whiny. I had been invited by a friend to her 5-year-old daughter’s pre-school graduation, an event I wasn’t going to miss given just how much the little thing, of course, idolizes me. And how could she not? I know everything about cool old video games.
So I fired up the Throwback Machine and took a spin back to the year of my high school graduation and found this June 18, 1996, photo of that year’s Sunshine Pre-School Graduates, which, after my experience watching a gaggle of poorly coordinated kids on risers try desperately not to cause the poor piano player to have a heart attack with their inability to decide on one tempo and stick with it, I decided was a much needed jump-start to the “high school graduation” column I didn’t really feel like writing.
For the best thing you could say about my own high school graduation is that it was perfectly, unequivocally, fine. Most of my close friends that year were from the class right behind me, so graduation night for them was just another Friday night hanging out at any given gas station. Although the gentlemen from the class of 1997 who asked me to join their garage band earlier that year (still a subject to be written about in great detail here someday. Stay tuned) stopped by my parents’ place, one in a suit jacket, to wish me well on what I guess was my “big night.”
I don’t have a lot of pictures that I hang onto, especially ones that I’m in, but that photo my mom took of us in the kitchen that night -- three dudes with the world right there waiting for them, even if their “world” at the time was just ‘ol Mattoon -- is, as far as I’m concerned, the perfect cover for that greatest hits cassette we never got around to compiling. Our drummer was not pictured. He was a freshman at the time. Who knows what he was up to that night?
Like I said, it was a “fine” graduation. I had a few laughs, got a very nice gift from Ms. Wilson -- one of a few teachers who encouraged my writing -- sat outdoors next to classmates I hadn’t talked to in years because you stop having to be in alphabetical order around grade school, tried not to blush into the infra-red when some classmates yelled out a well-meaning but really obscure nickname they found funny ever since I botched the pig-anatomy exam in Mrs. Epperson’s Biology II class, and then went to Project: Graduation which went by in a blur.
I emerged from E.L. Kracker’s into the early morning air, blinking hard, and got a ride back to Mattoon with some girls I knew. We stopped for breakfast at Stake n' Shake, something I couldn’t even enjoy because I spent the whole meal thinking of some way to tell one of them how much I was going to miss them without making it, you know, sound like I cared too much, even though I really cared a lot.
They dropped me off, loose promises were made about mini-golf that I can’t remember if were kept, the garage door closed behind me, and I went straight to bed at 8 a.m. in that weird zone between high school and whatever in the world Lake Land College was going to hold in store for me.
But that was me. Let’s talk about those kids, standing on those risers and singing their hearts out. As I sat there I realized about 30 seconds into a song about the color purple (the actual color, not the movie) that I was going to have to hold back tears. Aa realization made all the more embarrassing when I noticed that no one else in our row of chairs, including direct family members, seemed to be having the same problem. Were they dead inside? Am I the only man left alive with the soul of a warrior poet?
No to both, probably. More like it was just nice to see little kids getting excited about something, each and every one adding their own little flair to their performance as befitted their own personalities. Like the kid who trailed off midway through one verse to fiddle with his belt buckle, the girl who made it very clear she was not going to do any of the silly hand gestures, the one kid who took it upon himself to make up for that girl by doing all the hand gestures and then some just to show his teacher that he paid attention during the rehearsal, or like the little girl I was invited there to see, who was just loving the moment, still at that stage when your school, your friends and your parents were still fun things to experience all at once.
Class of 2019, as you stare down the barrel of that long hot summer before whatever life-after-high school has in store for you, know that unlike just about everyone else, I have no advice to pester you with. Instead, just a request. And it’s the same one I asked of that little girl while we sat outside enjoying some post-performance Fro-Yo. She put a big spoonful of her self-constructed tower of sprinkles, syrups, and shark-shaped gummies in her mouth, pointed at a rusty old car being used as a decorative planter and said, “Clint, I’ll bet that car is from the nineteen-eighties.” And I said, “Don’t change.”