Graduation Days

     Congratulations to all of this year’s Stoneham High School graduates, class of 2018. Over the years, I have been blessed with many happy graduation memories of my own. I am one of those lucky people who vividly remembers events from my childhood like it was yesterday.

     I still carry kindergarten graduation memories with me. The turbulent times of the early 1960’s must have heightened my impressionable senses. Or maybe I’m the kind of person who experiences things on a deeper level.

     I remember walking across the small stage at the E.E. Hale School in Everett in 1964. I was given a rolled up white construction paper diploma. The shiny red ribbon tied around it was a bright beacon announcing my accomplishment. I didn’t really know what I accomplished other than learning how to play, write and draw. I guess those are milestones when you are five years old. I posed for pictures with my neighborhood friends and looked forward to an endless summer.

     Years later, my 1976 high school graduation was less climactic. The ceremony was non-eventful, the parties were full of mindless disco dancing and swigs of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine. Legal drinking age was eighteen and kids back then took full advantage of it. My parent’sgave me a watch and told me to be home by my 1:00 a.m. curfew. I graduated into a world of Jimmy Carter, rising inflation, fuel shortages and no home computers. It was like the 1950’s without any of the fun.

     In 1978, I attended the high school graduation of my then future wife. I sat in the bleachers with my best friend Dennis, who dated her before she and I were a couple. (My teen-age love life is way too complicated to explain here. Those days deserve their own column. Better yet, I’ll save those tales for my book. Let’s just say it was all very John Hughes.)

     My college graduation was a momentous occasion. The ceremony at the Hynes Convention Center was special as I was the first one in my family to graduate college. My parent’s gave me another watch (but no curfew). I was starting my new career as a graphic designer in the advertising department of Jordan Marsh in Boston. Playtime was over.

     Fast forward: my two son’s graduated from Stoneham High School eight years apart. I was almost late for both of these events because of heavy traffic on Franklin Street heading to the ceremonies. You’d think I would have learned my lesson from the first graduation traffic nightmare experience with my oldest son in 2005. As we sat in a line of stopped cars on Pond Street he said to me, “We’re going to be late. Just drop me off on Skywood Drive. I can hop the fence at the back of the school.” He sped through the short-cut path between two houses, the tassel on his graduation cap blowing in the wind. I prayed he didn’t rip his graduation gown on the chain-link fence as he scrambled over the pointed steel barrier.

     My younger son’s high school graduation in 2013 was memorable for almost the same reason. After a slow crawl in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Franklin Street, my elderly mother refused to be dropped off at the entrance to the graduation stadium. She insisted on walking with me from a parking space at the far side of the high school lot. Unfortunately, her definition of walking was not the same as mine. The ceremony had already began by the time we made it to our seats in the bleachers.

     By the time my children graduated from college, I learned from my past mistakes and arrived early to the ceremonies. My son Joe graduated from The Art Institute of Boston. The ceremony at the Wang Center was crowded, awards were handed out and lots of family and friends were on hand. His degree in videography served him well. He is currently working as a news photographer for Channel 7 in Boston.

     My younger son Max graduated form Berklee College of Music. The ceremony was held at the Agganis Arena. It was a two-day extravaganza complete with a music festival and keynote speaker Lionel Richie. My son’s degree in music helped him secure a teaching position at the Tokyo School of Music in Japan.

     My graduation experiences have progressively escalated since I graduated Miss Fortini’s kindergarten class in 1964. I remember standing proudly with my 5 year-old friends, wearing my little plaid bow-tie and short-sleeved shirt. After posing for family photos, I took the red ribbon off my rolled up diploma. I unfurled the paper and held it up. It was blank inside. An empty piece of paper. Fake. Meaningless.

     “Why doesn’t it say anything?” I asked my mother.

     Never at a loss for words, my mother answered, “Because the future is yours to write.”

     I didn’t understand her words at the time, but they stuck with me. I’ve been writing my future ever since.

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