My husband and I both received the messages on the same day. One was from our son’s principal and the other was from his vice principal. “Good news,” the messages began.
For months, my husband and I had agonized over whether or not our youngest son Everett would graduate from junior high school. We had been told that he was on “the list,” and it was not the kind of list on which parents are happy to see their children included.
In contrast, he seemed to worry not at all. In fact, by the time I received the call announcing the welcome news that he would graduate, I had already decided that my son didn’t really want to walk down the aisle with his classmates on June 4.
But I was wrong. He simply did not want to let anyone know how much he cared.
On the day of his graduation, Everett seemed suddenly transformed, magically more mature. We dropped him off at school a few hours before the ceremony. When we saw him again he was looking straight ahead, not smiling, as he proceeded down the aisle with a fellow graduate, her arm looped in his, the notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” ringing through the air.
After the ceremony, I thanked his principal for her contribution to his education. She is retiring this year, and so she said a few things about how much she has enjoyed being an educator, and then she said, “Everett’s going to be all right, you know,” and I could tell she meant it. A few minutes later, his science teacher told me the same thing.
The next day, I asked Everett if he wanted to display his robe in his room. He did.
“Do you think we could also get my diploma framed?” he asked.
It was only then that I fully understood how important graduating had been to him all along.
It occurs to me as I write this that my son’s graduation is the product of a long line of teachers, office, staff, administrators, and classified personnel, all of them working together over the past nine years to help Everett get through. They did not always realize how important their jobs were to my son, and I’m quite sure Everett rarely expressed his gratitude to any of them.
But the bus driver who picked him up and returned him home every school day for the past nine years, the teachers who persevered even when he did everything he could to make them leave him alone, the secretary who loaned him her office for a quiet place to make up assignments during the final weeks of his eighth grade year – each were with him when Everett, a newly minted freshman, walked off the stage on June 4. He will not know this for a long time, and maybe he will never realize it, but I do, and I will always be grateful.
Graduation ceremonies commemorate the past while embracing the future, and so now we are looking forward to Everett’s high school years. When he begins school in the fall, our son will participate in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. It is hard to say whose individual determination the program hopes to tap, since our son is not powered by an overabundance of intrinsic motivation.
Still, applying for the AVID program was his idea, and he approached the interview process with a solemn commitment he has not exhibited in other academic endeavors, so I was both impressed by his initiative and proud that he did well enough in the required interview to be accepted into AVID. The program has a good reputation.
June 4 was an evening of hope, and that sense of possibility has not yet abated. Perhaps AVID will help to get my son through high school, and perhaps not. Maybe a sport will get him through, or maybe he will somehow hold on to that moment he walked across the stage at the end of his eighth-grade year, and that will propel him toward another graduation. In any case, at least for now, I believe he will be all right. His future seems filled with possibilities.
Brigitte is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.