Graduation 2017...we made it! My daughter and I both crossed the finish line last Friday night. I do not mean to take any of the glory away from her for the truth is she did it all on her own and in a very grand way. But when she walked across that stage to receive her diploma, I was right there with her. Yes, tears and all.
There were some tense, behind-the-scenes moments leading up to the event. I'm just a dad and had not the slightest clue what to do, or when to do it...or how to, as a matter of fact. I had never ironed a graduation gown before and literally lost sleep the night before wondering how hot to set the iron. What if the garment burst into flames right there on the ironing board? I had a shirt do that to me once. I'm sure the entire fiasco would have made a pretty funny video. But you burn a shirt, you go down to the Walmart and buy another one. You burn up a graduation gown? I've never seen those at Walmart.
There were numerous banquets in the weeks leading up to graduation. In a small community such as ours, events such as that draw large groups of people together. You get to see folks you weren't sure were still alive. You get to sit next to people you don't like. You stand in long lines at the buffet table and when you finally reach out for that last slice of cheesecake, some six-year-old snatches it just nano-seconds before you claim ownership.
Graduation banquets are a time to share your feelings. For one particular affair, I had to write a letter to my daughter that would be read before a large crowd. Nobody told me about the two hundred word limit and I am an author. I'll be publishing that letter in book form shortly...at two hundred pages, it should be a pretty good read. At the next banquet, my daughter wrote me a letter. I had to stand before the crowd as she read it. Thankfully I wore a long sleeve shirt that night to wipe my blurry eyes with. That was even more emotional than letting the cheesecake get away.
Finally, the big night arrived and myself and an army of family members headed off toward the football stadium. Well, yeah! Where else would a small west Texas town hold a graduation ceremony? We arrived fairly early and the stands were already packed. Everyone around here is related to some student who is graduating. Every year the entire town shows up. Our entourage was forced to find seating the uppermost bleachers and we all scrunched together, fumbling with cameras and smartphones, trying to zoom in on the empty chairs lined up on the field. ln the stands, folks were testing out their air horns. Helium balloons bobbled above the crowd and as the moment arrived cheers rose throughout the stadium. This was the biggest event of the year, after all, and we had all came out to support those kids who had endured and conquered a grueling twelve years to get to this point in their lives.
As the ceremony concluded, the speaker announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the class of 2017, I declare you graduates of...."
Well, you would have thought we'd won the Super Bowl. Before he could finish his speech, the entire crowd rushed the field. Air horns sounded throughout the crowd and confetti flew everywhere. I was really expecting fireworks to start shooting off on the fifty-yard line. I don't know how the rest of y'all do graduation, but around here we do it in a big way. After some serious searching, I finally located my own graduate and the family gathered around for pictures. As my eyes surveyed the mass of people on the field, I had a genuine feeling of euphoria. I found myself pondering the question 'Is this what Heaven might feel like?' For there was nothing but pure joy, love, and happiness radiating throughout the crowd.
And what better way to top off a graduation than to throw a traditional Texas-style cookout afterward. Family and friends gathered to continue the celebration, feasting on a brisket cooked to perfection. As the last of the crowd drove away well after midnight, I patted myself on the back. I may have faltered here and there leading up to this night, but by gosh, I had managed to pull off the perfect cookout. Exhausted, I slumped into my easy chair and cherished tonight, filing it into the 'Favorite Moments Of All Time' folder in my mind.
I am proud beyond words of my favorite daughter. Yes, I have only one but she is my favorite. Three years ago she came from a big city school to our little podunk high school, not only adapting...but soaring like an eagle. Her accomplishments these past three years are overwhelming and she shined like a diamond. I'm thankful the Good Lord afforded her the opportunity to experience life in a small town. And I am grateful to our community, school teachers, and so many more who not only acknowledged her potential but encouraged and cheered her on every step of the way.
I sat down with a cup of coffee Sunday morning and flipped through our local Sunday paper, which was three times thicker than its usual four pages, and beamed with pride. My daughter, my pride and joy, and my biggest blessing had landed herself on every page of that special graduation edition. After reading the paper, I carefully folded it and tucked it away in that special place I keep my treasures.
And so, a chapter ends. Next chapter...college! I'm accepting donations!