As the Lakeside High School graduates crossed the stage Saturday to pick up their diplomas at the James Brown Arena and Air-Horn Test Facility (“Our Locks are Glue Free Since ’93”), for the first time in 20 years, I no longer have a child attending Columbia County public schools.
This leaves me to wonder how many years must pass (is there a mandatory minimum?) until I, too, can become one of those curmudgeonly empty-nesting taxpayers who reflexively and loudly will compare every occurrence in the schools to some mythical time in the past when my children were in school, and by God things were much safer/better/cheaper/more commonsensical. You know, back when we walked to school, or at least to the end of the subdivision driveway.
Perhaps it is that time for which commencement-ceremony consultants are waiting until they can be comfortable in filling their ages-long void on the podium at which I should have been standing to deliver a graduation address this year.
Their previous failures to issue that invitation were so noted by my friend and colleague, the late Aubrey Shaw, who sadly departed before anyone had the presence of mind to ask him to deliver a commencement address, or even hold the oversized scissors at a ribbon-cutting. Heck, I hear he was even willing to speak at the opening of a box of cereal, but the prized invitation never arrived.
I blame it on the U.S. Postal Service, which soon plans to reroute all of our local mail through Macon in an effort to help maintain full employment for the unionized members of anger management support groups.
It is in Aubrey’s memory that each year I, too, lament the failure of graduation organizers to invite me to that one last opportunity to shape the minds of high-school seniors before they exchange their caps and gowns for a fashionable GPS locator anklet from their probation officer.
Typically, I have the presence of mind to position this yearly piece so it’s published just after the commencement ceremonies have ended, thereby conveniently preventing any of the guilt-ridden organizers from actually issuing an invitation and thus compelling me to deliver such an address.
And it would have worked, if Cindy Taylor didn’t have such a good memory.
Taylor, pastor of Church of the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, remembered my annual faux whine and invited me to deliver the sermon (don’t faint) last Sunday, as the Martinez church recognized the graduates in their midst. And celebrated Mother’s Day, coincidentally.
Not one to back down from a challenge, deliver it I did. The fact that there is not a smoking hole where Holy Comforter’s pulpit once stood is testament either to the success of my address, or a tribute to God’s sense of humor.
It was there in the pulpit that I, with furrowed brow and electronic airhorn in hand for full effect, poured out an encapsulated lesson on life, success and underwear visualization. And during that process, with college-bound Daughter No. 3 sitting in rapt attention among the congregation, it hit me:
No more ridiculously overpriced yearbooks! No more absurdly expensive photo packages (fall or spring)! No more being called to sneak out of the office in mid-morning to deliver a forgotten textbook or lunch money! No more late-night class projects or school-supply lists or math homework!
But that also means no more refrigerator art. No more excited chatter about first-day-of-school new friends. No more Girl Scout ceremonies. No more class parties or lunchroom visits or field days.
Like her sisters, she’ll mostly be on her own now. If she forgets a book, she’ll have to tough it out until she can get back to her dorm. That’ll help remind her next time not to forget it. If she’s hungry, she’ll have to get something to eat, or listen to her stomach rumble. If she needs math help, that’s what the tutoring center is for.
Dear old dad will just be waiting by the phone to hear hints of homesickness, to deliver words of encouragement, or take requests for logging into the computer to make electronic transfers of money. The phone will ring less as the maturity grows, and bailouts are less-frequently needed.
Then, one of these days, and one by one, those girls will marry and start bringing home grandchildren. When those days come, I’m sure I’ll also be waiting by the phone hoping for an invitation to bring a forgotten book, or help with homework, or watch a school play, or attend an elementary art show.
Hopefully, if God grants me the longevity, I’ll see those children cross the stage on which someone else stands, delivering a commencement speech that I know isn’t nearly as uplifting or riveting as the one that Aubrey or I would have given, back in the day, if only we’d been invited.
And in their honor, and out of what I expect to be overwhelming pride in my grandchildren, I will blast my airhorn.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)