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Memories surround us at graduation time

By D. G. Martin
Posted Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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Chapel Hill, NC - While many other families are celebrating or preparing to celebrate a child’s graduation, my family waits to celebrate the birth of my daughter’s third child. But I still remember her college graduation when I wrote the following:

Graduations are over. Caps and gowns have been returned to the rental agency - or carefully folded and put in the top of the closet to save along with other treasures that won't be used again anytime soon.

It is over. The introductions, the prayers, the speeches, the singing, the awards, the funny costumes, the silly messages on the top of caps, the mischief of some. It is all forgotten already except . . . .

Except that quick trip across the stage, the instant handshake from the president or chancellor or principal, and the receipt of a sheet of paper that certifies completion. All within a few seconds. That part we will remember. Those who graduated. And those of us who watched a loved one take the quick walk across the stage.

“How is it?” I asked myself as I sat waiting for my daughter's moment on the stage at her college graduation. “How is it that each spring millions of Americans persuade themselves to sit for hours of long drawn out ceremony in which they have only a small connection? Can it be just for the few seconds it takes for a family member or friend to walk across the stage?”

“What events bring families together like this? Weddings and funerals and . . . graduations. Why so for graduations?”

As I think about these questions I see her from a distance. She is surrounded by her classmates - and wrapped up in her cap and gown. I can hardly see her face. But I can make her out. The common family features show through even from far away. I recognize the way she stands. She is mine.

Looking at her all bundled up in academic costume, I see again the bundle of birth flesh that she was in the delivery room. Wrapped up then she was - in a hospital blanket with her wrinkled brow asking “Where am I?”

I see her, on a Christmas Eve, slipping out of her room holding her favorite blanket over her head and throwing the beloved pacifier down the stairs. It was for Santa Claus, she explained later. She had promised it to him in exchange for the gifts he would leave for her. But, when she thought about this big bearded man actually in her room, she knew she had to get the pacifier to him another way

I see her wrapped up in a hooded clown costume, venturing out into the dark night to knock on strangers' doors on her first Halloween. Smiling with mixed glee and fright, she steps out smartly from home and family.

I recognize her face beaming out from her shepherd's costume in the church Christmas pageant asking, “Why have the angels told us to come here?”

I see her covered up in bed, teary-eyed and lost, not able to understand the math concepts that must be understood to work out the problems due the next day. And I, unable to help, can only say, “It won't be the last time our minds will fail to give us answers when we need them.”

There she is now, surrounded by hundreds of others. . . . But she belongs to us - to her mother and me. It is our family's passage, our ceremony, our event, our time.

Our time to watch her go out again, wrapped up again, facing the unknown, uncertain, and un-understood again, with puzzled optimism, asking again:

“Why have the angels told us to come here?”

D.G. Martin is the author of “Interstate Eateries,” a guide to family owned homecooking restaurants near North Carolina’s interstate highways

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Memories surround us at graduation time

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