How to Survive a Graduation

LORIā€ˆOSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

It’s a long, hard struggle, but when you finally make it to graduation, it’s like being born all over again. Everybody is real glad for you, but nobody wants to watch the whole thing.

Me, I only go to the graduations of people I myself personally gave birth to.

At least for a birth you get drugs. At a graduation, you are on your own – no moaning allowed – just grit your teeth and smile through the invocation, the songs, a bunch of inspiring addresses and the attempted pronunciation of 700 names complete with middle initials, until at last all 700 throw their hats up in the air to show they’re responsible citizens now.

My son Gargoyle – 22 years after he popped into this world – is graduating from LSU. I am ecstatic, naturally. But I thank God for Ms. Larda’s system.

I got to explain. My mother-in-law Ms. Larda has gone through a lot of births, graduations, dance reviews, Boys Scout award banquets, birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and other excruciating occasions. She is an expert at how to entertain yourself during such events. She could probably sell this system to a politician’s wife for a whole lot of unreported contributions. But here it is for free:

1. Count your teeth with your tongue.

2. Do facial aerobics (no one is looking at you right now).

3. Practice Kegal exercises (if you don’t know what they are, you don’t need them).

4. Make bets with people nearby on how long until someone breaks the rules and goes blart with an air horn.

5. Clip your fingernails discreetly in your purse. (Save loud clips for applause or air horns.)

6. Clip your toenails (harder to do without being noticed unless people nearby are asleep).

7. Delete dead people from your cell phone.

8. Practice the exotic daydreaming you perfected during your own school days.

9. If you didn’t take your Gas-X, you can relieve the problem by shifting discreetly from the right hip to the left and back again. Then wait a minute, wrinkle up your nose and give an insulted glare to some random stranger.

You can also ponder ponderous questions about the faculty and all the honorable speakers. There they are, these doctors of this and that, lined up in a dignified row, all pomp and circumstance, and every last one of them is wearing a beanie cap with a square panel on top and a tassel hanging down next to one eye. With straight faces. Whose idea was this hat in the first place? I bet it was an ancient practical joke.

I can see it all now. Way back when, the first college graduation ever, the first college president says to his secretary, “Miss Wench, go forth and seek out the grandest possible headwear for this occasion, and be quick about it.” But she forgets, so when he asks again, she thinks fast and pretends like she’s reading it from a scroll. “Henceforth at graduation, the Learned Ones will shall wear, uh – a skullcap.

Topped with, um – a mathematical square, and then – ummm – a shiny tassel. Oh, yes ... a shiny tassel. Very important.”And she jiggles her bosom. If she had said they should wear purple bunny ears, I bet they would have worn those henceforth and today Learned Ones would be sitting in rows with purple bunny ears on at graduations everywhere in the world.

And then, if you’re lucky, after about 300 graduates you didn’t give birth to, the one you did give birth to marches up, and your eyes fill up in spite of yourself. This is your reward for scraping up tuition all them years. And running out at midnight to an all-night drug store for things like the multi-colored cotton balls that he forgot to get for his social studies poster in high school. And sending money overnight when his car got towed in college. And all the other things that don’t matter no more, because there he is on the stage, handsome and smart, smiling for the camera – and the fact that he will be moving onto your couch until he starts law school in the fall don’t matter, because your baby boy is now officially an educated man.

Then blart! – a blast from somebody else you gave birth to. Except, no, your daughter Gladiola is sitting there with her eyes bugging out, staring at Ms. Larda, who’s still squeezing the air horn which she just whipped out of her purse. And Ms. Larda is the one who gets all three of us evicted from the ceremony.

Once we are all outside in the fresh air, she says, “Number 10 on the list. ‘Once you see what you came to see, get yourself out of there.’ I didn’t write that one down.”

I say we could’ve left quietly, but she says that this way she don’t get no arguments, plus Gargoyle heard the air horn and knows somebody loves him.

Anyway, we all amble over to a campus coffee shop to relax while the rest of the graduates get their diplomas.

“So Modine, our boy is a college graduate. I wonder if he thinks he knows more than us,” Ms. Larda says.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” I tell her. “But at least he knows it, whatever it is.”

She thinks about that.

Then she says, “Ain’t that the truth.” She lifts her coffee-with-chicory, and me and Gladiola lift our skinny lattes.

“Here’s to higher education,” she says.

“And air horns,” I say.

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