This past Saturday I was at my university's commencement ceremony. As always it was an inspiring and moving program -- even though as faculty, I had to sit in full cap and gown regalia in the blazing sun for two hours. However, despite the heat, it was still an important and significant time. As I watched the young men and women excitedly rush up on the stage to get their diplomas I found myself remembering my commencements of a few decades ago... High school! Our graduation was held at the large tabernacle in the center of our small town of Logan, Utah. I don't remember anything anyone said. What I do remember is feeling like I couldn't WAIT to get out of this small town and do something HUGE with my life. That wasn't to be for four more years, however. I went to college in the same little town. But I do remember talking late into the night with some of my friends after my high school graduation. We tried to guess where we would all be in ten years. We couldn't imagine 40 years in the future. Everyone thought I would never marry and be some powerful business woman. Oddly, I was married about a year later. Proof that you really don't have a clue what is going to happen when you are seventeen or eighteen.
My college graduation was more exciting. It really was the end of school. The ceremony, was outside and we were very hot in our caps and gowns... Some things really don't change! Anyway, I was so hot that I somehow managed to slide off the jacket to my dress under the gown and slither it out through the sleeve. I am sure if anyone was watching they may have thought I had removed my entire dress. But it was just the jacket. I was so intent on getting cooler that I again, didn't remember any of the uplifting advice the speakers gave us.
Maybe graduation ceremonies aren't really for the graduates. They are too busy thinking about their after parties. Maybe graduations are for the rest of us--to help us mark the time that has past. I wonder how many of our graduates on Saturday remember what was actually said. Or how many will remember it 40 year from now. When we are right in the middle of the experience - I think we are already ten years down the road, thinking about the future. And consequently, missing the moment. That very special, specific moment when we truly turn a corner. We have completed something. We are "commencing" into our new lives. Whatever that looks or feels like.
It's probably a good thing we really can't tell the future. Oh, I think we can guess at what might happen. But my life didn't do anything the way I thought it would. If I had known then what I know now... I would have tried to dodge some of the heartache. Some of the failed relationships. Some of the bad choices in food, haircuts, jobs. But if I had avoided those things, I wouldn't have my children today or my wonderful granddaughter! We have to experience both sides of the equation. Bad stuff and good stuff. Stupid actions and brilliant ideas.
As I watched the breathless young people float by heading for their moment when their name is spoken, I felt a certain wistfulness for their optimism. Their shining innocence. It occurs to me that what makes us old is when we lose that optimism. When we have been knocked down so many times we don't even want to try any more. The young don't know this and they run headlong into walls and off cliffs. But they do try. And some will make it just because they tried. When we get so old that we stop believing in our dreams, we stop trying. And if we don't try ... we certainly won't be knocked down. But then we won't achieve anything either.
It's not that I want to be young again (well maybe fewer wrinkles...) No, I don't want to go through all THAT again. But it is important to remember that life is always ongoing. It is always new every day. I really don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. I really don't know if I can or can't achieve some dream. Just because things didn't work out 20 years ago or ten years ago, or five days ago, doesn't mean that is what is true at this moment, today. What is true is that this is a brand new day. At then end of every day we graduate to another day. And so it goes until we one day take a final step into a REALLY BIG AND DIFFERENT REALITY. But until that happens (and I am in no hurry), I need to feel that breathless anticipation of a each new day. I need to stand up and walk straight and excitedly into tomorrow. The party awaits.