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Most of the roughly 450 students who this week graduated from high schools in Shelby County – and in recent weeks peer institutions from around the world – likely perceive the passing of those diplomas as the metaphorical transformation from a 13-year trek through classrooms and textbooks to a lifetime of awesome and inspiring adventure.
They are peering ahead with any sort of mental scope they can muster, scanning for signs, reading the proverbial tea leaves and studying the jagged lines on their palms – anything for a hint about what might happen next, where their destinies might lie.
Some seek the validation of knowing the courses they so meticulously have plotted will be fulfilled in an equally quiet and methodical manner.
Others who have cast their futures to the fickle fingers of fate see this as where the gambles of yesterday turn into the jackpots or busts of tomorrow.
Each person, no matter of that perspective, seeks the same outcome from these understandable, traditional and timeless processes: Tell me about tomorrow while I forget about yesterday.
Oh, the lessons we learn long after the last school bell has rung.
Do you think any of these grads know that these just finished four years of high school will, in retrospect, be the most ineffable periods of their lives?
But that’s true, isn’t it?
Don’t you spend time almost every day – at least every week – harkening to a person, place or thing that consumed or defined your high school days?
Chances are, the legacy of high school was imprinted on your persona, written as part of the self you will project until your return to dust.
Think about it, many of you married a person you met during high school – and maybe even have remained married to him or her.
Some of you crafted your careers, planned your paths then – and maybe you saw those paths crumble and slide into the abyss of life’s turmoil.
But don’t you in many ways use those four years of high school as a barometer for every aspect of your life as it unfolded?
Didn’t those years provide the standard against which you measure what you became in life?
Did you overcome your big mistakes and surpass the limits some placed on your capabilities? Did you go from ugly duckling to beautiful swan or from average to brilliant? Did you grow taller and stronger and stand stalwart among those who used to belittle you?
And don’t you find yourself continuing to celebrate with special fondness the best parts of your high school days?
Maybe you were a member of a sports team that succeeded for building character and a sense of team if not being christened to sensational sainthood.
Or maybe you had a role among a theater cast who staged Oklahomaor The Cruciblebetter than you’ve ever seen it since. Maybe you performed with a choir or band that was overflowing with all-state performers who seldom hit a sour note.
Maybe you were part of a rock band that played in the high school cafeteria.
All are wonderful and defining moments that live inside our souls, the sorts that have been celebrated in ink, celluloid and lyrics.
When you think of educators who have made a difference in your lives, don’t you typically think first of those who taught you algebra or chemistry or foreign language or even to read for enlightenment?
In fact, didn’t those who made the greatest impressions cultivate you during your most impressionable years?
When you look back at the time in your life that was the most romantic, the most full of love and depth, isn’t it often those teen years, when you emerged from your painful pupa to the imago of adventure, when your commitment to your foundation was unsullied by the tainting tug-of-war of adult life?
Think about this: In many ways, through life’s perfect mirror, the best you could be was during high school, the most vital, virtuous and vain, to be sure – even a bit vitriolic – but you were virtuoso, too. You saw yourself as unique, either in your talents or your troubles.
And ever since that day you received your diploma in the old fashioned cap and gown, you have tried to shine the luster of the good and shuck aside the bad.
Do you still carry grudges from high school days? Do you maintain friendships and great feelings of accomplishments?
In the balance of our lives, the latter tends to outweigh the former.
There is a dichotomy, too, in that time can remove the scars of high school as smoothly as the most skilled surgeon or leave them scabbed and growing firm with permanence.
But time does tend to remove the cliques of the old days, to allow the cool and the ordinary to be seen on the same level, to have stars and role players in the same cast without ego or hierarchy.
A wise man once told me that the friendships you make in college – or in that period of life – would be the deepest, most enduring of life. He told me that before I went to college.
It made an impression, because the man who said this was solid gold with me. But he was as wrong as a century-old ordinance.
Certainly, I have broadened my family and expanded my relationships with tentacles of a connectivity that were cultivated in the culture of college.
But the friendships that carry me into old age are not the fraternity brothers or even treasured former working mates but those who walked with me the footsteps of high school.
They didn’t end with graduation, they deepened and grew.
Most graduates cite the commencement as an end of a segment of their lives.
But, I hate to tell them, the experiences of high school never really go away -- thankfully.