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Graduation

May 20, 2019

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Living near New Haven, Connecticut, it is impossible to avoid the annual freak show that is Yale’s graduation.

Always before Memorial Day. Always elbowing away Townies. Always a competitive joust of cars, humans and dinner reservations.

I am now old enough that we have been to a bunch of these weird events of our children. Huge time, effort and money has been dedicated, either earned and spent, or yet to be spent repaying debt. In the more rarified places like Yale, humans parachute in from everywhere in the world to declare victory. As a group, they are entitled, befuddled and indescribably proud. The most obvious box in a parent’s life has been checked off – child  launched.

Their kids are fully full of themselves. The campus is sparkling, The ceremonies are gowned and often ponderously bloated in created import and projected meaning. Families, money, time, age, legacies, all swirl together in a stew of uniquely human construction.

Unless you opt out.

I did not go to my two graduations. First, architecture students take five years to get their degree at a BArch school, so those students often attend their fellow, but not architecture majored, classmates’ ceremonies. I did not, even for good friends. I did not even think to.

I now understand why I didn’t, even though I was there, in Ithaca 42 years ago, earning a living. It just did not matter to me, perhaps because it did not matter to my parents, who actually went there 35 years prior.

Survival is preemptive. In 1978, my parents had survived 33 years of marriage, a world war, two previous children who did not graduate much. My sister did not graduate from her elite prep school, let alone even matriculating into a college. My brother did graduate from Dobbs Ferry High (altho I have no memory of a ceremony), and he then dropped out of college after years of not-so-much caring or effort.

But amid all of this, my parents were fully consumed by coping with alcohol and Mid-Century Perfornance criteria that left my father, a Wall Street Lawyer, feeling somehow failed in a sea of resume success and scotch.

My high school graduation was different. A full on ceremony, in nice clothes. It was a moment when things were by a script that had been handed to my parents 30 years earlier, and in me, at least, they could perform their roles.

But survival is, most typically, individual. Their battles fully enflamed my little life, until I was shipped off to go to high school in Buffalo, and mostly left to myself. The private high school had a sea of things for parents to do, but my mother went to one play and one football game that I was in. My father went to that one game. So, similarity, although alums, my parents visited me once in 5 years in college although they regularly passed within a hundred miles of it in road trips between Buffalo and Westchester County.

When it takes your full attention to cope, happiness is less of an issue.

Graduations are, in a sense, the end of one type of coping. My guess, after 20 years of both my parents’ death, is that coping was deemed fully necessary in their lives. Survival was a reality writ stark and abiding in lives of reaction, not circumspection, let alone hope, or even faith.

So when I realized that I had to make enough money to pay off my $2,300 outstanding bill at Cornell, as my father would not underwrite the bank note, and my co-signer was nervous that he would be stuck with the bill, it was a no brainer to become a deep sea scallop fisherman at $1,000 every 10 day cruise.

So, despite my relative small size, effeminate contenance, graduation from the 8th grade, and having no outstanding felony warrants for my arrest, I fit in with the crew, did my job, and did not die.

One sunny day on my last trip out, I was in the deck, filling the steel wire basket with Dinner Plate Scallops 22 miles out to sea off New Jersey, and looked down at my watch and realized that at that moment, my classmates were getting their diplomas.

I chuckled and went back to making money.

Pride needs confidence. I had barely gotten out of college, albeit a semester early. I had wrecked one relationship with a woman and would do it again in a few months, I had no relationship with any relative, including my parents. I was alone in a boat.

But, at 22, I knew I was surviving. There would be $100 bills at the end of the trip, I would end this and go on.

41 years later, money is still an issue, but graduations are done,

It is clear to me that celebrations are simply not part of who I am. Survival might have invalidated that part of my life. Getting what we earn, what we deserve, is not something for me to be proud of, it is simply transactional. But, for most, effort done is cause for celebration.

All those Yale parents and their spawn know how to do that today.

I wish I knew how.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2019 8:35 am

    This is first graduation I’ve enjoyed Duo. What ever your next “graduation” will be ( and perhaps you get to decide what you are graduating from and for what) I’ll bet you have learned what it means and how acknowledge that. I’ll be there!

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