Graduation ritual renews hope, opens doors

June 12, 1998|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

THE girls are more beautiful than girls have ever been, lithe and graceful in long white robes.

And the boys are handsome and clear-eyed, their blue robes lending them a certain dignity.

I am in a place I've not been for 24 years. Backstage among high-school seniors ready for graduation. The ceremony begins in minutes and I'm searching for my stepdaughter, trying to deliver the cap and gown she didn't receive, thanks to a clerical snafu.

Unexpected actions

If you had told me before that I'd be doing this, I would have laughed out loud. Raising the daughter in question has been like trying to disarm a ticking bomb. She's been the proverbial problem child, brought more pain into the house than her four siblings combined. So much so that there was a time I thought she would never make it to this day. Or that I would not choose to meet her here if she did.

But there she is, and here I am.

Don't make too much of it. It would be the worst, most saccharine lie to say that a few bars of "Pomp and Circumstance" can magically seal fissures that took years to develop. Not close. Not a chance. But all the same, this ritual of spring is not without its power, is it?

The air is vivid with excited murmurs and nervous laughter and I stand among these no-longer-children, not-quite-adults trying to remember when or if I was ever as young. When or if I stood so anxiously at one of life's borderlines, waiting to cross into a place I had never been before.

As a child, I was fascinated by borders, the idea that this side of an invisible line was one place, but the other side was somewhere wholly different. Traveling across country at 11, I remember being a little disappointed as we passed from state to state, California to Arizona to New Mexico to Texas; I kept expecting an instant . . . something. Waiting to feel different, looking for some sign in the sky to acknowledge that we had come abruptly into a new place.

Doesn't work that way though, does it? Trees on one side of the border seemed to look pretty much like trees on the other. A change had come, but its effects were not immediately to be seen.

The same, I think, is true of these rituals we use like borders to mark off one part of life from another. So I imagine that a new graduate will wake up the morning after the ceremony disappointed to discover that he's pretty much the same person he was before.

He'll understand soon enough. Nothing is different, yet everything is.

'Tis the season

I don't know who decided that graduations -- and for that matter, weddings -- were to be held in June, but the symbolism of it is irresistible because June itself is a border: spring to summer. From the season of new birth, redemption and renewal into that of heat, immediacy and opportunity.

And is it too much to pray that a daughter who has been nobody's picnic, who has spurned second chances by the dozen, will understand this and cross over from a childhood of trouble? There is, of course, no way of knowing.

In the end, there is only hope.

The orchestra strikes up the stately strains of the graduation march and lines of girls-to-women and boys-to-men begin wending past me to take their seats. There is a distant thunder of applause.

My daughter, cap and gown delivered, is one of the last in line. As she passes me, she lifts her hand and gives a luminous grin. All things seem possible.

Then she is gone, filing out with the other girls, walking softly toward the border.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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