It’s graduation day. The bag piper fills his bag to prepare for the slow march to the dais as the administrators take their places. The faculty forms a sort of walkway/tunnel/barrier against late comers for the graduates to walk through.
As the graduates processional through us in their red polyester gowns many of them are laden with golden accessories and shining medals. The top ten clink and clank all the way to the front row. The medals and golds stoles, cords, and tassels all represent accomplishments for the honor roll students. For some of them, those honors were hard fought. Others were able to coast their way to the honor roll each year.
And then there are the students with no visible accolades except for the red cap and gown that they wear. These are the ones who make me tear up.
In those plain red gowns there are students who have overcome great odds to be standing at graduation at all. There is no medal for being the first in your family to graduate from high school and enroll in college, for moving schools six times in as many years, for developing coping strategies for debilitating anxiety, for translating every message sent home to your parents who want to be involved, but speak little English. But there should be.
Golden cords could be awarded to the students who rose above abuse, grief, anger, poverty, eating disorders, dyslexia, and bullying. Some students honestly receive honors because their parents willed them to and insisted upon success. Other students are able to graduate not because of their parents, but in spite of them.
Golden tassels could also be awarded to students who have perfect attendance, students who successfully get their siblings to and from school each day and help with homework each afternoon, and students who work 30+ hours a week because their families need the extra income. What honor should we give the student who fought for the air to breathe when born and then fought every day in school to overcome the subsequent learning disability?
But, I suppose, the beauty in these struggles and successes is that they are done largely in anonymity. Often with only a handful of caring teachers knowing exactly what that red gown represents for them on this day.
Now there are also a group who will be in red gowns who could have been honor graduates and more, but chose to squander their time and talents. I resignedly shake my head at you, but the good news is…this is not the end. A commencement is literally a beginning. You will have time to get your act together and show the world all you can do whether it is in college, trade school, in the military, or on the job.
To the class of 2017, congratulations no matter how you are regaled on this day. Go do good in this world. I am proud of you.