a first graduation
We waited in front of the glass cafeteria doors with all of the other parents and grandparents, all of them well dressed, as if they were attending Sunday church services. Sam and I were not as well dressed, and I felt self-conscious. I had taken the day off work, as I always do on my kids’ last day of school, and I was dressed for a relaxed day around the house, in a t-shirt and cropped pants. I shifted uncomfortably in my sandals and checked the time on my phone.
The crowd was restless, small groupings of family members inching closer to the doors even though they would not open for another fifteen minutes, at 8 a.m. There were limited number of front row seats, and everyone wanted to claim them. Only the front rows would have unobstructed views of the stage. I took some deep breaths to calm myself, anticipating the rush that would come when the doors finally opened. There would be seat saving – not just one or two, but an entire row – and that always drives me crazy and makes me anxious.
The doors opened, right on time, and I managed to find us seats in the middle of the fourth row. Our seats were not ideal, but they were good enough. I was glad I’d listened to Sam when he suggested I bring the zoom lens. I wished I was a better photographer. I wished I’d worn a dress.
Our daughter was graduating from fifth grade.
The ceremony was short and sweet. Each fifth grade teacher stood at the podium and read his or her students’ names, one at a time. When each name was read, the student walked up and across the stage, shook hands with the principal, and received a rolled-up diploma, tied with a ribbon. The students sang two songs, there were some closing remarks, and within 45 minutes, it was all over.
I assumed it would be no big deal, and that’s one of the reasons I dressed so casually, I think. It was just fifth grade graduation. It wasn’t high school or college – or medical school – graduation. The ceremony was at 8:30 in the morning, so how momentous could this event be?
As I sat in that eclectic audience of proud parents, and as I heard each student’s name read aloud, I watched our daughter. She was one of the tallest in the fifth grade, along with a couple of other girls, and it was easy to find her in the crowd of students. I watched her walk toward the stage, and I knew she was happy. She was excited and proud of herself, and she was glowing.
I thought back on this fifth grade year. It was a challenging year for her, but maybe even more so for me. I have had to learn how to parent a pre-teen. I knew that puberty would be a difficult time, but I never expected how emotionally demanding – and exhausting – it would be. There have been so many instances I’ve wanted to write about, but I know that she now goes online and she may read what I have written, or she may find out what I’ve shared through a teacher, a friend, or a friend’s parent. Out of respect for her, I’ve turned more toward my journal than toward this blog. (And on a related note, I asked her permission before including the photo of her.)
Maddie name was called and she walked across the stage toward her principal and his outstretched hand. I stood up, camera raised, blocking the view of the parents behind me. She walked confidently, her head held high, her eyes bright with joy. I snapped photos until she was off the stage and the next name had been called. She beamed as she took her seat. I sat down and realized I’d been holding my breath.
And even though it was just a fifth grade graduation, I realized what a big deal it truly was. It was Maddie’s moment to shine and to be celebrated. It was the last day of elementary school, this first phase of her education. It was the last day that she would attend the same school as her little brother, at least until she is a senior in high school, and possibly even forever, if they choose to attend different high schools. It was a first graduation for her, hopefully the first of at least two more. This day marked a turning point for Maddie, a final ceremonial step (or plunge) into the middle school years.
She was just lovely that day. I am so proud to be the mother of such an amazing person – my bright, confident, stubborn, infuriating, generous, loving, and beautiful daughter.