The spray-painted black mortarboards that sit atop the faces that carry the sometimes-toothless smiles, sun-kissed cheeks and bare-skinned knees appear, at first, to be a silly parody of the real ceremony happening elsewhere in auditoriums across the country. That would be the real graduation where the participant’s knees are covered with black gowns that carry the eye down to khaki pants and black shoes, or bare-skinned calves that end with a pointy high-heeled shoe.
A parody, however, this is not. What you are about to witness is a classroom of small legs, sitting criss-cross applesauce, that are just coming to the cusp of the realization that this group of little people making up the circle on their floor can no longer be compartmentalized into the one who collects race cars, or the one with a Grandpa that owns a farm, or simply as “the girls.” They have now become a collective whole. Even though they have no idea what this truly means – they can now sense an energy that goes beyond themselves, and the individual friends they have made. There is now a collective knowledge that simply just knows not to wear the Batman Costume to school.
This sudden awareness is instantaneously revealed to the parents, who have just felt their stomach lurch (as if they’re on a roller coaster) when the curtain billows up, and the words, Class of 2022, are revealed on a golden banner above those cardboard squares bobbing across the stage. We sent our children into this classroom 9 months ago hoping they’d learn to read, count to 100 and make new friends. But something bigger took place here in this room.
When the shoulders are shrugged up to reach the cheeks, the chin is down on the chest, and the eyes are looking up for fear of “missing something,” the moment has begun. Weeks before, this moment was birthed when the teacher asked the students, “What is (fill-in-the-blank) most famous for? What do you like about him?” The pupil in question was removed from the classroom for this brief Q&A, and is now hearing what his peers think of him for the first time during this very ceremony. The answer always elicits a blush or two, and parents stand silent, hearing for the first time, how the ripples of their little child’s presence here in the world, has intersected with the ripples of all of his peers.
The pupils don’t even have to be told to “hush.” They are simply fascinated by watching the reaction on their blushing friend’s face as the litany of qualities are revealed.
While we may applaud the academic (they are reading) and physical (holding a pencil without cramps) achievements the kindergarteners have surpassed this year, we are more in awe with the people they are becoming: A glimpse into what the world will be like in 2022 when these munchkins are adults.
“Will you be old,” he asks me when I tell him the year of his graduation.
I tell him I’ll be just the same to him.
“How does that happen? How does it get to be 2022” he asks?
“See that sun,” I tell him. “Well, it just keeps moving through to sunset to sunrise, day after day. It just keeps going, and you don’t even have to do a thing to make it happen.”