06 June 2011

Degrees of Change

It’s been years since I attended a high-school graduation — quite possibly not since I attended my own. And never mind how long ago that was.

Time enough for at least one significant change. Back in my day, we had one valedictorian and one salutatorian. That was plenty, or so we thought. But it seems we were deprived most cruelly.

Since Friday, when I attended a godson’s graduation ceremony in North Texas, I have understood the low esteem in which my classmates and I were held by school administrators. Four salutatorians trooped across the dais, and eight valedictorians orated at us. Clearly, my classmates and I were much less special than we ought to have been, and while the speeches on Friday struck notes of hopefulness and rosy futures, I heard only echoes of my own youthful inadequacy.

So be it. Easier to face up to one’s erstwhile shortcomings than to accept that this towering fellow who shaves and needs to, who speaks complete sentences whenever he isn’t eating, this legally recognized adult who drives automobiles and who answers to your godson’s name, can possibly be the infant you set down for his nap only a minute ago.

At least there was nothing shocking in the graduation speeches themselves. The abundance of valedictorians left no room on the program for honorary degrees or grownup speakers, and it was truly heartening to hear how little changed are the speeches of callow, grade-grubbing youths, from my day to this. They are ready now as they were in my day to tell us that a bright future awaits us all as we go forth confidently into the world.

And they may be right. I certainly can’t contradict them. They must know something, after all, for they are valedictorians. I never was.

I don’t have predictions to make or advice to offer to these kids. What can I possibly say to my godson, or to anyone, that might be of use in later life, or even ten minutes from now? From the first moment I held that boy, he has humbled me, as if it were a vocation to him, and no matter how small he seemed in the beginning, I have always felt smaller. How can I be for him the person he deserves that I be?

I can’t and I haven’t, and at this rate, I won’t. I hope I haven’t botched the job too terribly much, and with or without or despite me he has achieved sterling results in life thus far. But as I say, he deserves the best, as recompense for the riches he has brought me, simply by taking part in my life.

And so I keep struggling to improve myself. I keep searching for the words or deeds or gifts that will clear the path, part the clouds, and build the citadel for him evermore.

All the while, he keeps doing for himself all those things I ought to have done for him already. He has always known what’s best for himself; he tucks his head in and waits us out, then strikes out in the direction he chose to begin with, exactly as if we never said anything at all. I can take no credit for him, and while that is as it should be, it stings a little, sometimes.

So off you go, my boy. Have a good time! Live and learn! Be young while you can be, and then be something else!

I’ll just sit here, waiting nervously in the dark, until you get back. Do drop me a line from time to time, won’t you?

(Surely if I were a valedictorian, I’d be a better godfather, and I’d think of something wiser to say.)

1 comment:

Girl From Texas said...

Brings a tear to my eyes...