Graduation season is here once again, that time of the year when many of our nation's youth don goofy gowns and silly hats and promenade about in public.
I find this troubling. After all, young people are the de facto fashion arbiters of our society. What does this clothing choice say about our nation's future?
But there is a good reason for these outlandish outfits: they are worn to signify the achievement of a goal, one that involves meeting a minimal set of standards and passing certain tests. In other words, fooling the Board of Education into thinking you have acquired a particular level of knowledge.
At least that's how it was in my case. I loathed school and saw attending class as a total waste of time. After all, I was going to be a farmer and how much education does a farmer actually need? Perhaps just a few rudimentary ciphering capabilities and a modest understanding of mathematics. The rest was so much fluff.
Given this attitude, it's a miracle that I graduated from high school at all. Thankfully, my diploma doesn't mention my class ranking.
All across this great land of ours, there are great gatherings taking place to honor the most recent crop of graduates. Invisible beneath this veneer of happiness and hospitality is the sense of relief on behalf of the honoree's parents.
I don't mean that they're glad the grad will soon be moving out. It's more like the feeling one gets upon completing a marathon. In this case, it's a triathlon of party preparations.
The host and hostess of these graduation gatherings exude a serene charm. They invite you in, bid you sit and have some punch or would you prefer coffee and try these sandwiches and this cake is absolutely to die for. What we don't see is all the work and worry that went into the party preparations, the cleaning, the arranging for food, the cleaning. It's hard to make it all look so easy.
It seemed like graduation parties were a lot more fun when I was a youngster.
Our parents would pack all eight of us kids into our 1959 Ford station wagon and motor to a relative's or neighbor's house. It must have made folks grin and think "clown car" when we unloaded.
The house would be packed to the rafters with people, the air stuffy with their combined exhalations. A big deal was being made of the graduate, whose job it was to smile and shake hands. But you could see that beneath the graduate's smile lurked grim thoughts of "The Future."
We swiftly inhaled several sandwiches and a chunk of cake. These were washed down by a mysterious Technicolor fluid that came from a capacious bowl wherein there floated a large frozen ring.
The indoor party soon became boring, so we took it outside. A game of tag or hide-and-seek would spontaneously arise. It didn't matter if we knew the other kids or not; everyone is a friend when playing crack-the-whip.
As we tore around on the lawn, the heady perfume from blooming lilacs and chokecherries filled our nostrils. The earthy aroma of freshly-tilled soil underpinned this palette of flowery fragrances. Treetop robins warbled their evensong while down in the slough a million-frog chorus commenced its nighttime serenade.
Evening deepened and the games grew more spirited and we morphed into wild things, creatures of the dark. The shadowy grove, which might normally frighten us, became our domain. Indeed, one would have felt sorry for any wolf or bear that made the mistake of challenging our sovereignty over this woodsy realm. We howled and hooted at the fat full moon that slowly bubbled up from the horizon, a gigantic orange blob rising inside a cosmic lava lamp.
When our energies flagged we would dash back into the house to refuel with more cake and punch. The mosquitoes were out, but left us alone. Perhaps they thought that the sugar content of our blood would have been fatal for them.
It became time to go home and our parents called us to the car. We emerged from the grove with sticks in our hair and twigs in our teeth, smelling of rotten leaves and dank soil. We were amped from our victories in the forest Olympics and soaring on sugar.
"I can't wait until I have a graduation party," we chorused as we drove home.
And so it eventually came to pass. But we had by then given up our wild ways, gladly donning the goofy cap and gown and spending much of the party shaking hands and contemplating "The Future."