High School Graduation – A Question of Punctuation

High School Graduation—A Question of Punctuation by Robynn

I think the difference between the ending of my high school career and the ending of Connor’s is rather like the difference between a period and a comma. A period, in the realm of punctuation, indicates, “the full pause with which the utterance of a sentence closes; end, stop.” Most of the world calls this grammatical point a full stop. In many ways my life ended on my graduation day. It was over. I came to a full stop. Yes, there were new sentences yet to be entered, but on that day, life as I knew it had come to a close.

A comma, however, is a punctuation mark that separates words or groups of words in a sentence. Connor’s graduation will serve as a separation, a pause, between spaces. His primary education chapter is over. His university chapter now begins. His momentum will not slow. He’s turning a corner, he’s picking up speed. There is so much joy all over this story! It’s fun to stand back and watch. Prom and after prom parties. Senior Skip Day. Graduation. After grad parties. Receptions. Cake. Balloons. It’s a celebration drenched season. There’s a lot of happiness around these parts.

I find myself in a stir-fry of emotions and comma confusion. I’m thrilled for Connor. There’s so much joy! But I’m also battling waves of grief and memory as my own experience is called to mind. I know the comma is the appropriate punctuation but I’m tempted to use a period instead.

My graduation from high school was a world away. I graduated from a small international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Northern Pakistan: Murree Christian School. The graduation ceremony was held on a Friday evening in the “Big School” –an old British church built in 1857, later converted to a high school. Chairs were set up. The stage was cleared and arranged. The pianos were tuned. Although there were only five in our class the entire community came to our graduation. They filled the auditorium. By the time the quartet of pianists started to play Pomp and Circumstance, there was standing room only.

Once we had formally and slowly marched on to the stage the program began. There were speeches from the principal, Phil Billing, the Chairman of the board, Mr Burrows and Philip Lohr, a genuinely brilliant man, our valedictorian. Out of a class of five I was the salutatorian with an (un)impressive grade point average of 3.21. I gave the salutatorian speech that evening. I seem to remember that our class sang, Michael W. Smith’s Friends are Friends Forever. Then there was that moment where all five of us moved our tassels from one side of our mortar boards to the other and the ceremony was over. Really the transition had just begun, within hours we’d be moved from one side of the globe to the other.

A reception was held in the dining room where mothers from the junior (grade 11) class had prepared cakes and cookies and punch. The room was decorated with crêpe paper streamers and balloons. Before our class would reach the reception though we stood around the periphery of the staff lounge and the entire community walked past to say goodbye. Our “aunties” and “uncles” –missionaries our parents had served alongside filed past. Younger students, teachers, dorm parents, cooks and administrators that had watched us grow up all came to say goodbye. Many of them had taught us Sunday School, or proctored our exams, or helped keep the statistics on Sports Day. Younger students had looked up to us. We had been their “big sisters” and “big brothers.” The community had known us and our families for years and years. And now they came to wish us well, to commend us to the great grace of God, to remind us that we were loved and that we belonged to them.

Each hug was an ending. Each squeeze meant impending loss.  These were people we would never see again. And we knew it deep inside. We were saying goodbye, not just to high school, not just to childhood, but to everything. We were saying goodbye to community, to culture, to our sense of connection. We were bidding adieu to our place and our people. Our lives as we knew them were ending. We were essentially attending our own funerals, or so it seemed, and the grief was intense.

But for Connor it’s entirely different but I’m not completely sure in what ways. His class is the size of our entire missionary community in Murree. There will be a service. The class of 2015 will be surrounded by community: parents, grandparents, younger classmates, teachers, administrators. Here each individual student has a reception on their own—in their backyards or at the park, at their churches or their community centers. Mothers make the punch and the goodies. Family and friends will gather to wish the graduate well, to celebrate his or her accomplishments.

As a foreigner-mom looking ahead to this significant milestone I’m not sure what to expect and I feel nervous. I have friends that have coached me. I know it will be fine. Connor will walk across the stage. He’ll shake hands with the appropriate person and receive his diploma. I’m not worried about him. I’m a little worried about me. I feel this well of grief, still not dry after all these years, being mysteriously tapped again. I find myself grieving again the loss of myself—although those ‘deaths’ happened years and years ago. I don’t want my own experience to overshadow Connor’s. I don’t want this to be about me. I want to enter Connor’s experience with joy and gladness. We are so proud of who Connor has become. He’s an incredible young man with great passion, great commitment to justice, with discernment and gentleness. He has a great sense of humour. He’s quick witted and candid. I want this to be about him!

I will watch and I will learn a lot…these are new things for me and I’m still crossing cultures most days. I intend to enter Connor’s world and fully experience the giddy exhilaration. I’ll keep my story separate for now. Later when it’s over, and the cap and gown are scattered on his floor, and he’s driven off with his good friend for their road trip adventure (that they’ve been planning all year!) –then I’ll cry. I’ll cry for me the high school graduate and all that grief I still mysteriously feel. I’ll cry for me the mother who’s done mothering this one. I’ll cry for those old losses and I’ll cry for these new losses too. I’ll cry because I wish his experiences were more like my own but I’ll also cry because I’m glad they aren’t.

4 thoughts on “High School Graduation – A Question of Punctuation

  1. I remember your class singing that song. We were part of that large community that showed up for an event we were all a part of. Our kids were younger but as they grew up as part of MCS I began to understand that the graduation celebration was also filled with grief. I remember one younger sibling of a grad in tears because the family would be broken apart. The grief I get. You have expressed it well.

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  2. Wow. Wow. I don’t think anyone has ever expressed it in writing like this before. That’s exactly how it was for me and how I want it to be for my kids. The crazy thing is that the grief is not just about letting go of kids now. It is truly about the losses from long ago as well. And that sometimes makes me think I am crazy so it is nice to know I’m not the only one! Thank you!

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