Graduation Season

They paced and looked down at their folded papers, laughed a little awkwardly, feeling just a touch like freshmen again. Some would mention that feeling of anxiety, some would focus on the excitement of starting something new, some would revel in the almost magical experience of being seventeen in May. Tryouts for the student graduation speech bring a level of nervousness comparable with the first day of 9th grade. I know. First hand.

Two and a half decades ago I had the privilege (read: terror invoking roller-coaster ride of adolescent fear and adrenaline) of giving the student graduation speech at North Salem High School (Go Vikings!) This week, as I saw students gathering their thoughts and preparing for speech tryouts, I remembered my own pacing and paper clutching, and felt both empathy and the unmistakable feeling that graduation season has begun.

Everyone has their own opinion on the timing of the start of the end of the year. Some see AP testing as the harbinger of graduation season, others prom, and some (half) jokingly, homecoming. But for me it’s seeing those bold and brave seniors lining up to share their three minute perspective on high school as sandwiched between a quote from Gandhi and Dr. Seuss.

More than presenting the actual speech at commencement, standing up in front of a panel of judges shows a strength that doesn’t cease to impress me. These are thoughtful students who took the time, in this busy time, to reflect, find meaning, and put pen to paper.

The speeches themselves talk of four years of high school in ways that are moving and funny, and the sentiment that finds its way onto those much folded papers mirrors a shift I see year after year in the emotional lives of senior classes. It’s right about this time in May that seniors begin to feel closer to one another. Other events will cement this connection: prom, the yearbook distribution, a senior assembly. And by the time we reach the final week of the year, a great many seniors will allow their guard to drop and will let themselves open their eyes to the connections to be made in the last fleeting days of high school.

Between now and graduation, in the five or so weeks before mortarboards take flight, students have much to do and lots to enjoy. School rules still exist, and being denied a ticket to the Senior Boat Dance (perhaps the coolest LCC senior event ever) because of excessive tardies could be a foolish reality. Academics still matter, even after college acceptances are announced. But memories, good ones, are still waiting to be made.

I wonder what each senior would write if she or he was asked to prepare a graduation speech. What would stand out from four years at La Costa Canyon High? Games? Plays? ASB events? Maybe quieter memories of walking across campus with a friend, laughing over birthday balloons in the library, or helping someone who showed thanks.

As we enter in to the last few weeks of school, I welcome this subtle shift we see in our seniors. A little goofier, a little more emotional, and a bit more prone to sentiment. Graduation season has begun.

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