Graduation: Welcome to Adulthood

The only class I miss from high school is choir. Keenly aware of this, I hugged Mr. B on the way back to my seat in the silence following “God Bless America”. What I didn’t know was I would never see him again after that day. Sad, because I wouldn’t have minded hearing more of his variations on Confuscian wisdom.

That day, I closed a door on my past with every intention to move on into adulthood in a very business-like manner. I had no party. I did get cake and my pick of supper, which meant Mexican, but the only pomp and circumstance involved ended when the band stopped playing.

This weekend, as some students get to walk across a stage to receive their piece of paper while others simply get the symbolism of graduation, I’d like to share the story of one graduate close to home.

Two weeks ago, I walked into the office and caught one of the managers posting her daughter’s graduation announcement on the dry-erase board the staff uses to pass messages from shift to shift.

“How’s it going, Corrine?”

She cranes her neck to glance my way as I stand across the desk from her. Her office is located two floors up at the other end of the hospital. 

“Oh, everything is fine. How is the ambulance today?”

“Hasn’t burned down yet.” As she steps around the desk, I nod at the board. “That becoming a personal announcement board now?”

“Lacy is graduating this year,” Corrine replies, evading the suggestion of my question. She herself removed a “Thank You” sent by a patient from that very same board four months ago because it made the board look too cluttered. Her explanation: personal items don’t belong in central supply. 

“I see that,” I say with a nod to the announcement and a grin directed at her. Fortunately, the Cheshire Cat streaks are hidden behind a cloth Covid mask, the only blessing I’ve found in recent events. I can stick my tongue out at her, and she’d never know. 

“Well, you have a good day. I need to get back to my office and check my email.” Corrine bustles out the door leaving me to hope she heard how lame she sounded. Her attention to the ER and supply departments was fleeting and cursory, and I glared at the graduation announcement, reading tackiness and favoritism. Rules didn’t apply to her. Corrine planned to host a graduation party for her daughter while she proposed off-duty restrictions on the downstairs staff. Only one person in the department may be invited to the kid’s open house. Which left two reasons for her using our peg board for personal messages: bragging and/or begging.

I’d met the kid at one point. She stepped on my hand climbing down the bleachers at a basketball game two years before.

“Hey! Watch it!” 

She’d glanced back at me, looked down at my scratched knuckles,  already turning red, flipped her salon-highlighted hair over her shoulder and walked away without an apology. Her mistake was turning back. Had she kept walking, I could dismiss it as her not hearing me. Instead, I sat fuming over her arrogance.

Fat chance that kid was getting a card from me! I saw no point in spending $3.50 on someone who couldn’t spare a, “Sorry.” Resisting the urge to take the thing down, I dropped off the IV pump I’d brought from the ambulance bay and headed back to the garage.

My next shift on the hospital side, I found a card tucked under the keyboard. It was addressed to me from Rosamie, one of my coworker’s kids. Inside was a simple, Walmart printed announcement on thin photo stock. Despite the pink, I smiled at the printed apple blossoms and the no-frills, no makeup picture of the young woman smiling directly and honestly at the camera. Her pose was natural, as though the shutter caught her sweeping the hair out of her face on a windy day up at Lookout Knoll. Unlike the photo of Lacy still tacked to the board behind the desk, this one was genuine because Rosamie was genuinely herself.

When I first met the girl a year before, I mistook her for her mother since they looked so much alike. I asked the usual questions asked of a high schooler, what was she studying and what did she do after school?

“Nothing cool like sports,” Rosamie replied.

“Oh there’s lots of things more cool than sports,” I replied. “So out with it, girl!”

“I sing with the choir and perform in one-act competitions with the school team.”

“And she competes in speech,” her dad added. 

“Girl, that’s way cooler than sports!”

Rosamie shrugged, blushing with embarrassment.

“You’ll take more from speech, debate and acting with you into adulthood than you will from sports,” I told her. “Trust me. I did both and the only thing I learned from sports is no matter how hard you work or how talented you are, if you aren’t from the right part of town or fill out the uniform right, you’ll always sit bench.”

“That’s true, but I do like playing softball.”

“Fitness is good but not worth wrecking your body before your 20s!” 

Rosamie laughed as I paced with an exaggerated limp, a throwback to the repeatedly sprained ankles I suffered in junior high.

“When’s your next performance?” I asked.

“The Christmas concert is in three weeks. I can check the time and have Dad let you know.”

I missed that performance because a basketball player plowed into the wall under the basket. I missed a few others out of sheer laziness, but I caught enough of them to discover that Rosamie had a knack for the performing arts. More than that, she had passion for the craft. In the intervening years, she improved, landing a lead role her senior year and a solo in the final concert, which they recorded in some online meeting and posted on YouTube. The performance never showed up on the school website, but weekly updates on the state of baseball appeared every Monday without fail.

Besides her after-school activities, she worked part-time at the local grocery store, earning what she could for college. Because of disability, her family lived on one income which medical bills took a large chunk of. Still, she balanced her fun stuff with work, and made that progression into adulthood a couple years ahead of her peers.

As I stood studying her graduation announcement, I saw college life spent in late night study sessions worked around part-time jobs to fill the gaps left by scholarships and grants. I hoped she’d get better financial aid than I did. She deserved it, because unlike the kids that built resumes around token club memberships without putting any real time or effort into any one thing, Rosamie gave what she could, doing her best while working around an economic and cultural situation slanted against her. 

Unlike the blond-haired, blue-eyed athletes like Lacy, Rosamie, of Pacific Island descent, didn’t get a special announcement in the paper. Where the junior high football team got two pages per grade in the Middle West yearbook, drama, speech and choir each got one. The town newspaper never ran a single article about those clubs, despite Rosamie and one of her teammates placing in state and regional speech competitions. In a town with Native Americans mixed in, the disparity had more to do with a distaste for the arts in general and it showed!

A prerequisite for public recognition in high school is being on a sports team, pure and simple. Though I feel sorry that Rosamie’s talent will be overlooked by Middle West, I have every confidence she will keep going, because she doesn’t desire recognition. She desires to do well for the intrinsic value of doing well, and that is a rare trait in a young adult in any generation!

I decide I won’t get her a card. A hand-written letter in good cursive carries more meaning in my opinion, and this kid deserves the best I can give her. For a moment, I wish that last winning lottery ticket had been mine so I could give this kid a good shot at life by taking the financial hardship out of it. But I can’t. So I give what I can: a few dollars, some words of advice, and the hope that the winds of society will always be with her.

So, to all those who never stood in the spotlight, who kept moving forward through thick and thin, who know that real life is about to start, this is for you! Welcome to the freedom of adulthood!

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