Graduating Steps

Excitement is in the air

I wish graduations were individual ceremonies, like funerals. But no, you got to sit forever listening to somebody intoning the names of all them other kids besides yours.

Used to be, I would get through by counting my teeth with my tongue.

Then cell phones came in, and if you weren’t too conspicuous about it, you could check your email.

But turns out, there wasn’t no need for that at my daughter Gladiola’s high school graduation.

 I got to explain. 

Celibacy Academy is real big on tradition. When I graduated from there, we had to learn how to curtsy (bend right leg, slide front foot forward, keep back straight.) 

They stopped doing that when stiletto heels come in style. Young ladies kept pitching over onstage and exposing body parts that Celibacy Academy don’t approve of. 

But some things don’t change.

Graduation is always held in the Academy’s flowered courtyard, even though that means jamming folding chairs everywhere, even in the azaleas, so if you get there late you wind up peering out from between branches, like in a jungle movie. 

But this year, the courtyard is being renovated. We hoped the Academy would maybe rent the UNO Arena, but no, they had the chairs set up out on the baseball field, (named after Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Fudwig, who donated the outdoor lighting) and put a platform up front, decorated with black-and-white bunting, the school colors, to match the nuns and the mascot, Prudence the Penguin.

“Pomp and Circumstance” starts, and the graduates march in, lined up in alphabetical order.

 A voice orders, “Turn right!” The line obediently turns right, even though they have to step over the audience members sitting in that row. 

Next the voice says, “Make a left.” They do, which takes them up the side aisle toward the stage. Then it says, “Make an immediate U-turn.”

By now, Sister Gargantua, the principal, has noticed something is wrong. “Give me the cell phone, Miss Antoine,” she barks at the first one in line. Turn out the poor girl had left the GPSon and it wouldn’t shut up. Sister Gargantua chokes it into silence and the class proceeds to the stage.  

Then things get boring again, briefly.  The valedictorian and salutatorian make nice little talks, and then Charles C. Fudwig himself is introduced to give the commencement speech. The sun is setting and he points to it, very dramatic (I heard he insisted on timing it so his speech would start right at sunset). And then the park lights blast on. 

He says, “As the sun sets on your high school days…” And he immediately regrets it. He has a termite in his mouth. A lot of other people have termites in their mouths too.

We forgot it is termite swarming season. And this evening, every termite in 40 miles is drawn to the Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Fudwig Baseball Field, with its irresistible lights. 

The graduates slither down into their gowns like a bunch of turtles with flat heads. The rest of us just have to put up with it—termites down our necklines, termites up our skirts, termites in our noses. I learned something I never thought I’d learn. Termites taste sour.

Sister Gargantua stands up, and with one hand in front of her mouth to wave off termites, roars out, “Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Fudwig!” as if he’d actually given his speech. And then she says, “Young ladies, please come to the stage in your assigned (choke—a termite got in) alphabetical order.” Some quick-thinking teacher hands her a sheer scarf, which she throws over her head and face —like the paper bags we used to wear to Saints games— and reads out the names real fast:

“AliciaAntoineBrennaArneauxCindyBienvenuBrittneyCooligeTessaCooligeMandyCammile…” while the graduates race up and snatch their diplomas. Nobody even manages to blast a air horn.

Afterward, Ms. Feeberman, the singing teacher, puts a scarf over her head to lead the alma mater “CeeeLLLab-cy ACADemmmy. We will ALLways love thee.” But she stops after one verse and everybody rushes home to their showers.  

It is the least boring graduation I ever went to. 

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