"SO THIS is it?" my sister asks quietly as we sit and watch my oldest son laughing with his friends as they sign yearbooks and make plans for Senior Week activities in Ocean City.
Yeah, this is it. Tonight, he walks across the stage with his friends and graduates from Glen Burnie High School, moving on to a world that will challenge, frustrate and amaze him at every turn.
"I wish there was something profound I could say to him " Her voice trails off. She remembers how no one could forewarn us.
It's not that I haven't tried. At any opportune time -- commercial breaks, forced occupation of the same vehicle, requests for money -- I have managed to slip in a few pieces of advice to my son. For example: Always pay your car insurance on time. Those people have no sense of humor and they can make your life miserable.
Every time you wear your seat belt, you're telling your mother you love her.
Never forget the teachers, parents and coaches who were there for you. Be there for the next generation.
Learn from the teachers who probably should have explored a career at the Motor Vehicle Administration instead of the classroom. Remember, if you're unhappy in your job, move on before you crush someone's spirit.
Find a job you like. It's not about money -- it's about not wasting every Monday morning for the next 40 years trying to come up with a plausible excuse for not going to work.
That whole sunscreen thing is not a bad idea.
Your bravado will start you on journeys that may be foolish, but this is the joy of youth. Later in life, you'll realize your biggest regrets are over things you were afraid to try.
"Do you think he listened?" my sister asks.
I shrug, not sure what any of them hear when we talk to them. Just then, my son calls out that he is going to the mall to meet Nick, Mark, Tim, Ross, Mike and apparently the rest of Glen Burnie High. Before he leaves, he reaches over and fastens his seat belt.
I love you too, son.
At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Nicholas Wzientek cut an imposing figure as he loped across the field at Glen Burnie High with the skill that earned him a place on the All-American Lacrosse Team. Equally imposing in the classroom, Wzientek achieved a 4.4 grade point average, and is valedictorian for the Class of 1999.
Tonight, when Wzientek delivers his valedictory address, he will crown a high school resume that included co-captain of the lacrosse team, academic All-American lacrosse player, president of the National Honor Society, the Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Mathematics and Science Medal.
A semifinalist in the Maryland Distinguished Scholar program, Wzientek earned offers from Yale and Georgia Tech and a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy. Wzientek accepted the Air Force appointment and will leave in June for the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he plans to continue his lacrosse career while majoring in chemical engineering with the Class of 2003.
The son of Kathy and Stanley Wzientek of Severn downplays his achievements. He attributes his accomplishments to perseverance and not to any special talent.
"I don't think of myself as really smart; I just work hard. I did my homework, I did what my teachers told me to do. It's just a GPA," he says. "My parents are a big part of my success. Although they always wanted me to get good grades, there was never any pressure."
Wzientek is also thankful to the teachers who made an effort to help him succeed, most notably Cathy Kelly, Diane Hilditch and Kay Bogle.
In his speech tonight, Wzientek plans to remind his fellow graduates that their success to date resulted from what they have learned from many different people -- parents, teachers and friends. Their future success relies on what they choose do with what they have been taught.
In addition to Wzientek, Stephanie Shireman and Stephanie Knight will address the graduates as co-salutatorians. Christina Kuegel, the class president, is also scheduled to speak.
A last goodbye
This is my final Neighbors column for The Sun. I want to thank all of my readers for the messages and notes I have received in the past few weeks. It was somehow reassuring that for the past nine years, there was someone out there reading the column besides my sister.