“Do you have any regrets?”
I know you’re supposed answer no, or in the words of Frank Sinatra, “too few to mention.”
But I have one. It’s a regret that was born half a lifetime ago, but one worth bringing up especially this spring.
I didn’t go to my college graduation.
It was no big deal, I said. It wasn’t like I had a job lined up or anything. My major was in speech-communications, a liberal arts major with the fewest number of credits required. I was able to get my diploma in four years and limp out into my future. And I mean literally limp: I had just torn a ligament in my knee, sporting a full leg cast and crutches.
“Nope. No big deal. I’d be just one out of well over 1,000 graduates trundling across a stage five abreast while the Dean of Such-and-So rattled off names as fast as he could.”
Nope. No big deal.
And I was wrong as wrong could be.
I have come to understand, too late in life, that ceremonies matter.
In Boy Scouts, the chosen few are awarded an Eagle Scout badge. They hold a big high-honor pageant, where uniformed elders read ponderously from weighty tomes about how rare and an unusual the feat is and how esteemed the ranks of Eagle Scout are. I have been invited to one of these, and by accident I came in a suit and tie. I was almost underdressed.
The FFA has similar pageantry. Somber youths in blue corduroy jackets reciting from memory each duty of each honored position. I remember only one piece after helping a kid memorize his role as Sergeant at Arms; I don’t remember what he did, but I do remember him barking out that he “was Stationed by the Door!”
Wow. I was in 4-H and we didn’t station anybody by the door. We had about four kids in t-shirts stationed behind a folding table running meetings with a minimum of fuss and absolutely no grandeur.
I was called up at one of those meetings when I was a senior in high school by Mrs. Cain, our 4-H leader. She presented me with a Key Award paperweight in a cellophane bag and told the inattentive club members that it was a big deal. She shook my hand and I sat down. That was it. I think pound for pound and hour for hour, it probably was as big a deal as the Scouts or FFA, but it never felt that way.
And so—a lot of the class of 2020 is going to get my version of the Mrs. Cain-cellophane-baggie-here-you-go treatment.
They will probably understand that’s the way it is, and it’s safer and the way we must deal with this pandemic.
And you, as a parent, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, cousin or friend will need to do something I wish had been done for me. You will make a fuss.
“Heck Yes!!”you’ll say. “We’re gonna do something! It may just be the few of us, but I definitely AM cooking a special treat, and OH YES we are going to have it in the back yard and YES we are having Uncle Earl say a few words and give the invocation. And OH YES YOU ARE wearing your cap and gown and yes YOU ARE preparing a speech and YOU BETTER invite your best friend over, because we are taking pictures and cutting cake and telling you how proud we are of you and all you’ve accomplished and we will NEVER forget this day.”
Because if you do all that, they really never will forget that day.
“Do you have any regrets?”