This is it. Here we are, in the center of Reed Arena (do you remember the free tickets we would get in elementary school to watch the A&M women’s basketball team play where we now sit?), sporting the overpriced maroon gowns we’ve witnessed our older siblings, friends, teachers—but never us—wear.
Here we are, flipping through the pages of programs that have our names listed in alphabetical order and listening to the congratulatory air-horn-blowing that Mrs. Elder tries to put an end to every year. (This year will be no different—she will eventually give up. But for us, the fact that this repeated, obnoxious sounding is reserved for our class makes all the difference.)
I ask you to pay close attention to the sensations you feel right now. Pinch the ceremonial fabric draped over you. Reach up and touch the tassel hanging from your cap. Turn your head to exchange a quick glance with your best friend, who is sitting 200 or so strangers away. In a couple years, you’ll remember graduation as a “milestone,” with the haziness that accompanies all such Momentous Life Events, and you’ll have trouble remembering the specifics—only that you walked across a stage and got handed a fake diploma and exchanged “Oh my gosh let’s hang out this summer!!!”‘s with acquaintances you knew deep down you’d never see again.
Yet the specifics are important. So, go ahead, grab the edge of your cold, metal folding chair. Remember the back-pain-inducing stools and creaky blue and maroon chairs you’ve sat on for four years.
In some ways, we’ve had a unifying experience at Consol. We’ve taken required classes that often served to disinterest us from learning altogether, struggled to navigate around (or inside) the ‘Grind Circle’ at school dances, and occasionally smelled weed—among other things—in the bathroom in the cafeteria. We’ve encountered rude, shove-crazy people in the hallway, and on our bad days, we have been that rude, shove-crazy force.
We’ve had wonderful teachers who exuded passion for their job, and we’ve had weary teachers who never made the effort to learn names, even if you did sit in the front row for an entire semester. I don’t know if they knew, but we could always tell if teachers didn’t actually believe all of the idealistic sayings displayed on the posters that covered every inch of their classroom walls.
We’ve walked the same hallways, and at times, felt like the off-white paint and the cracked tile floor were oppressing us from all sides; other times, we thought they were endearing—this was our Consol, imperfections and all.
Already, we’ve experienced heartbreak—not in the woe-is-me, romantic sense, but the suffocating kind we thought only happened to “grown-ups.” We decided to conceal these emotional burdens every time we walked through the school doors, accessorizing our fraying sense of self with a lanyard, ID, and dress-code compliant clothes. Somehow, though, in the middle of the afternoon, we would suddenly be struck by how impossible it seemed to get through the rest of today, and the day after, and the day after that.
You may think I’m being overly sentimental. I used to be. But ever since my dad—the loyal family man, the impulsive dog-adopter, the repeater of “Yanichka, never forget where you come from”—ever since he left my mom and me for another family, I’ve decided that melodramatic sentimentalism rife with hypocrisy and defensiveness is not a philosophy I’d ever like to follow.
I’m here today with something else: I task you with remembering high school without the haziness and deceptive nostalgia. To remember it with its faults and virtues. To neither have “stuck-in-high-school syndrome” nor forever think of it as a prison—Consol looked like one, and sometimes felt like one, but you and I know that there were worse places to be.
Class of 2017, I congratulate you all on making it through the past 4 years. I know how hard it’s been for you, but you’ve done well. Just remember—the specifics are important.