The graduates |

The graduates

A long-lashed youth with a cloud of dark hair spoke earnestly, saying he’d changed: from once telling his teacher to “Get your grubby mitts off me,” to, currently, more acceptable forms of address.

Graduations aren’t what they used to be.

I feel fairly expert on the subject, having just been to two in about 26 hours (the above is from the second), though that is nothing compared to our school’s beloved maintenance man, Jim, who still cares about kids after they’ve left his grounds, and who went to five graduations.

In my case, each was of a tiny class of eighth-graders ” 14 in the first, nine in the other ” from local charter schools. Every student chose an adult to speak for him or her, but the real stars were the students ” thoughtful, reflective and admirably honest.

My son Teddy just graduated from eighth grade, and I must say the event was wonderful, though at 2 hours, 15 minutes, it was also very, very long.

Teddy, 14, had asked our friend Jim (another Jim) to speak for him, and Jim took the task seriously, contacting various people, amassing info. He put Teddy out there amusingly and with all his strengths (motivated, hardworking) and those things he needs to work on in high school (patience and tolerance, as usual).

The speakers were as varied as the students: two grandparents (one sang an original composition about his grandson, and brought down the house), numerous parents (the fathers cried as much or more than the mothers), friends, a brother, a sister. The sister remembered seeing her brother playing with Matchbox cars as a child. Now he analyzes her soccer moves. She ended by handing him a Matchbox car, entreating, “Don’t grow up too fast.”

The kids were fresh and direct. From Teddy’s classmates:

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve forgotten a lot. But who hasn’t?”

“This has been a really good school, and I want to thank my teachers. But if I have to stay here one more day, I’ll go crazy.”

One girl spoke openly about seeing her best friend have a seizure at age 9, and herself developing anxiety attacks, which used to keep her from watching scary movies or going to sleepovers. Yet here she was, lovely and poised and an excellent student, having determined that fear will not rule her life, and that doing her best is good enough.

It was surprising how much, really, my son’s class of 14 had endured, and willingly shared. A talented boy had undergone over a dozen cranial surgeries. A smiling and athletic girl had persevered through a reading difficulty that turned pages into hieroglyphics. One youth had had major corrective surgery on his leg.

A father with waist-length hair said he had overheard his daughter’s schoolmates wonder if he was a musician, a Harley guy, a hippie, or, his favorite: “Is that her grandfather?”

“And I’ve been all those things,” he said, “except for the grandfather. And my proudest role is: her father.”

The kids often talked about ups and downs with their classmates, but concluded with congruence. In the end, they may have learned to cope.

Teddy’s class, like many in final weeks and months, seemed to have consolidated, especially since a trip to Costa Rica, when they traveled for two weeks, and helped a farmer plant lettuce. Teddy had been concerned about being so far away, especially after the recent, sudden death of a dear friend of ours.

“I want everything to stay the same,” he told me. He wanted nothing to happen to his parents or brother in his absence. Unfortunately, I could not promise that, only that we’d be extra careful.

Teddy, having been at his school since kindergarten, was a little sad to finish, understanding he’s losing a connection to his childhood self. I tell him that if there is one constant, it’s time passing ” and change.

Teddy and his brother will go out in the world, and that is what I can’t change.

Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at

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