I’ve watched these grads grow up. Wow, what a generation — despite it all.
On the last day of school, I wake him with bacon, the best alarm clock for a teen boy.
A teen boy awakened by bacon rises happy and eager, the way a boy should for his last day of high school … his last day ever.
Of course, my son Smartacus will go to school again, but he won’t have me to awaken him in college, nor the bacon frying in the next room.
In college, he won’t have me to toss a load of laundry in the washer when he gets behind on life. He won’t have me to run out and buy him Gatorade when he is feeling a little sick.
Other than those few things, his life will be awesome beyond words.
I think to myself on this morning: How many times have I driven him to school – thousands? Even the car has muscle memory. We head down the shady lane in the fancy part of town, through the tunnel of trees that offers a moment’s peace prior to the airport roar of a modern American campus.
The drop-off point was in a park under some 100-year-old oaks. I even asked the kids in the carpool once: “Know how cool this drop-off point is?” as shards of sunlight filtered through the trees. It looked like a movie set, with the kind of trees that set designers create, then backlight the way you would Redford or Streep.
For six years, that’s how he started his day – two years at the adjacent junior high, then four at this high school, under the type of oaks that never lose their leaves.
Youth is a gift – a bright, shiny bauble in a box someone snatches back from you eventually, as you desperately clutch to keep it – “No! No! No! Not yet! Don’t let me lose my leaves!”
His sister Rapunzel just turned 30, and she had a No! No! No! moment on her birthday in early April. Smartacus is too young to care. He’s only halfway through his gift, and he’ll think it’s his in perpetuity.
Really, how else should an 18-year-old approach life?
I will tell you this: The Class of 2021 is an incredible group of graduates. They were born just after 9/11, grew up during school shootings and political turmoil. Just when things looked as if they couldn’t possibly get worse, we put a Democrat back in the White House.
Oh relax. That’s a joke. Relax already.
Point is, despite our chronic cultural shakiness, these kids are mostly cheery and full of hope. As they showed up wearing smirks and flowing grad gowns the other night at the church, they looked dressed for Heaven. At the very least, a rousing gospel choir.
I have known many of them since they were 5 or 6. I did the field trips; I coached; I painted sets for school plays.
Ever ridden 100 miles on a hot school bus to a pumpkin farm just outside of Fresno, so a bunch of second-graders could run through a corn maze for 10 minutes?
I have. Warm bag lunch. Bad back. It was fantastic.
At the celebration at the church the other night, I told them how proud I was, how I’d known many of them since pre-school, and what an honor it was to see them grow from the awkward children I knew then to the awkward adults they are today.
A few laughed.
Then I told them about fear. I told them about my buddy Steve Searles, a noted wildlife expert in the Eastern Sierra, and how Steve came to detest fear, after realizing that black bears are no threat to us whatsoever: In fact, they are docile creatures just looking for a decent lunch.
Kinda like me, actually.
Steve is an amazing guy…sort of a hillbilly philosopher. After studying the bears, he asked himself: What else are we afraid of that we shouldn’t be? What else do we not understand? Why do we automatically fear things we do not know: different accents, different skin tones, different ways of worship?
“I hate fear,” became Steve’s mantra.
That night at the church, I told the grads about Steve and his theories on fear. I also read them my favorite poem on fear, by a poet named Khalisa Rae:
What if Dorothy wasn’t afraid of the wind?
What if she welcomed the cyclone?
The thought of being lifted, suspended
in air as release.
What if she saw it as escape, being tossed and jolted?
You know, it’s a funny place, California. It’s not a place that is easily impressed, particularly in our little village of Nobel winners and other wunderkinds. I’m considered the only slacker (but I’m a committed slacker).
I’m too cheery too – I’ll admit that — more prone to boosterism and cheap applause. Frankly, I’m a little militant about my senseless good cheer (and screw you if you don’t like it).
I remember thinking way back when, after the first-grade play, after the 6-year-old Pilgrims knocked it out of the park; “Why don’t these parents stand and applaud? Why are they sitting there on their precious asses? Why am I the only one standing?”
Then the third-grade play came along, and I thought: “Well, this time…this time they’ll stand and give a rousing round of applause for the kids who worked so hard on this, who overcame stage fright and scratchy elf costumes to put on such a splendid little show.”
Who knows, a standing ovation might encourage them to try this difficult thing again?
Again, polite applause. No ovation. Strange.
Now, they are graduating, these kids, the ones who grew up amid school shootings and pandemics.
If there is occasional rage to some of them, a brittleness, a debilitating anxiety, it might stem from the sense that nothing was ever good enough for their parents, who have pushed them since pre-school.
What price that? Chronic self-doubt? Anxiety? Epic achievement? A renaissance in the arts and sciences?
Maybe all of it? Who knows? Could go a lot of ways.
“When rocks impregnable are not so stout…” warned Shakespeare.
Well grads, I’m here to remind you how stout you are. It was, in fact, good enough. It was good enough in first grade, and it is definitely good enough right now.
I’m standing. I’m cheering. I’m blown away by your spirit, your exuberance, your laughter.
On this, the last day of school ever, my neon heart is right there on my forehead.
And I think you’re magic. I really do.
Please support this silly little enterprise with purchases of t-shirts and assorted other items – even books, if you must. If you’ve got a funny father, you might even consider my book “Daditude” as Father’s Day approaches. “Daditude” is a series of columns on the joys of modern parenting. For info, click here. To read recent columns, click here. Thanks!