It’s the original Kodak moment. On a sunny June day, a loud cheer rises as hundreds of caps fly into the air. The snapshot captures the handshakes, the robes, the congratulations, the teary-eyed parents hugging their sons and daughters. This moment is the bittersweet ending and the fresh start, all in one.
This happened to me Sunday. To share what this moment was like for me, I will use a format nearly extinct among those present Sunday in robes and tasseled caps: a letter.
Dear Class of 2013,
No matter which school is your alma mater, I am extremely proud to be graduating with you. Unless you went to Peninsula.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of this moment, but I will do my best. It is a moment in which we face two directions at once — forward and backward. Think of it as though we are on an airplane that just took off from SeaTac — heading for an unfamiliar destination, a new adventure. We are excited, and yet when we look out the window, we see the home we just left behind, way down below — all the buildings and houses, the trees and the water which filled our vision for years.
At this moment, at 30,000 feet, we see our home as though it’s a picture on Google Maps. We see our high school, rows of sailboats lining the marinas, and Highway 16 nestled between swaths of evergreen, outlined by the rocky shoreline. We see the twin green bridges that frame the mountain on that first sunny day after two weeks of rain.
It’s all still familiar, yet it’s as though we have never appreciated it before.
It would be so simple to think of the 12 years we have spent in school as hoops we jumped through, as though they were just items to check off the great laundry list of life before moving on to the real deal. It would also be simple to think that graduating, that becoming adults, is the finish line of our long race.
But in reality, we have spent this whole time just getting into position, setting our feet on the blocks, focusing our eyes down the track and listening to the judge say, “On your marks, get set . . .” and today is when he says go.
However, the last 12 years of school have not been mere child’s play. Our childhood will be just as important tomorrow as it was yesterday, because it is as children that we are most malleable, and it was here, in our hometown, where we made the choices that define us.
We have also been molded by mistakes: the class we could have passed, the friend we could have made or the questionable vacation picture we should not have accidentally added to our senior presentation PowerPoint. These mistakes will be washed away when we walk out the door today, but we will be different people for the experience. Reflections on what we could have been, and what life might have been like, will either help us or haunt us for years to come.
Starting today, that too is ours to decide. More importantly, it is here that we chose the values and beliefs that are now most important to us. Young adults are pegged as hopelessly idealistic individuals who inevitably give way to cynicism with age, but there is no requirement that says we must allow this to happen. These past 12 years have been preparation to turn the ideals we have today into the reality of our future.
Right now our planes are just taking off, and our possible destinations are limitless. But no matter where our planes land, we will have fond memories of the shock of cold when jumping in the water for the last swim of the year, of the first bite of a Frisko Freeze burger late at night on a weekend, and of the stunning view from the Narrows bridge when the sun reflects across the ripples of the Sound.
Though we each head for a different destination, sometime far from now we will each feel the call of home.
Aidan O’NeillAidan O’Neill is a recent graduate of Gig Harbor High School whose future plans include attending Santa Clara University, perfecting his bird calls and trying to take over the world. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And for all those folks still in suspense after my last column, Natalie did say yes.)