Janet Sheridan: Graduation distress
May 19, 2011
Last year, I packed into crowded bleachers with a multitude of proud, camera-toting families at my granddaughter's high school graduation.
From the "Pomp and Circumstance" entrance to the mortarboard-tossing finale, I enjoyed her ceremony far more than any of mine.
My commencement disappointments began in ninth grade. We girls walked into the hall in pairs and joined another female duo to promenade the center aisle. As our angular English teacher lined us up, she realized we had too many starch-stiffened petticoats under our voluminous skirts, and walking four-across, we could injure inattentive occupants of the aisle seats.
We waited twenty minutes as male volunteers, sweating in suits and ties, removed chairs from each side of the aisle. This bustling activity displaced the proud parents who had secured aisle seating in order to film their offspring.
Folks were disgruntled; fisticuffs were threatened.
Mr. Beckstrom, a large man, worked hard at removing chairs and refereeing arguments, then passed out. Fifteen more minutes went by while he was revived and carted off.
Because of these set-backs, I had less time to cavort with Kent Jensen at the graduation dance — Dad had to get home to milk the cows before his night shift.
In high school, the girls of my class were the first in the history of the school to walk with boys of a similar height, rather than their boyfriends.
The principal decided the class of '61 would march in like a rope of pearls strung small to large. He was tired of mediating the spring hullabaloo over who would walk with whom. Thus I sashayed in with Richard Nielson, the tallest boy in the class — a nice person, but no Elvis.
The decision to have the graduates write and present a pageant rather than having speakers also broke with tradition and caused personal disappointment: I wasn't asked to be on the script-writing committee. Mr. Davis said graduation was a serious occasion with no need of corny humor.
I represented a teacher in the pageant. I fussed about how to costume myself before deciding I'd wear glasses, lace-up shoes and a shapeless dress; I carried books and tried to look wise. Scotty Huff asked why I hadn't worn a costume.
I next attended a two-year junior college, graduated with an associate's degree, and as a student speaker astonished both the audience and myself.
Between farewell dates with my true love, I wrote a speech and memorized it. Misjudging my mental capacity, I carried no notes with me to the podium. Halfway through, I ran out of words.
"My fellow graduates and I have benefited … my fellow graduates … My …"
What an impressive sight: eyes bulged, mouth agape, mind blank. Mom looked horrified. Dad stuck his head beneath the seat in front of him. The graduates stopped daydreaming and swung their tasseled heads toward me in startled unison, like a covey of quail.
I still flinch when I remember the silence as 20 seconds crawled by while I stood mute, trying to reconnect with my mind.
Two years later, I marched six blocks in a procession across the campus of Utah State to my graduation. The evening before, showing off in my cap and gown, I cooked fish for those family members who'd traveled to Logan to see how I'd embarrass them this time.
As a result, the smell of fried catfish wafted from my robe as I toppled along on heels too high for a forced march. The last two blocks, I hobbled slowly on blistered feet among my fish fumes, and delayed the entrance of the entire College of Education.
Graduation speakers talk about the joy of the occasion and the pride of the accomplishment.
I wouldn't know.
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