It is pretty much always the same. Lines of kids in caps and gowns, flowers, balloons, crying moms and fussy babies, speeches about the meaning of life, scattered bursts of applause and snapping cameras (mostly cell phones now).
Every time I attend a graduation, I’m proud and happy for the graduates. I never get tired of seeing all that hopefulness.
But it comes with equally strong feelings of hate for the human race.
I try to suppress it.
I focus on the mom with the tissues in front of me that screams out, “I love you baby!” as her boy walks across the stage.
I focus on the dad beaming two rows down who is videotaping the entire thing with due diligence.
I focus on the grandmother who is overcome with such joy that tears run down her face.
Then it happens again, another name is called that is met with silence.
This kid has no cords around his neck. No awards to speak of.
I clap in my quiet, lame way, but it’s nothing. It isn’t heard because the next kid, the one with 50 family members and tons of his peers screaming his name, is now walking across the stage.
That’s when the anger starts and I think about how fucked up this whole thing is.
I was one of the “good kids.” I worked hard, understood the game, and had lots of family members to cheer me on.
I wasn’t that kid that nobody clapped for.
But I see you.
I know that your life is harder than these spoiled kids with two loving parents and a hundred relatives that flew in from around the country to support them.
I see you.
I know that you barely graduated because you had to juggle taking care of your siblings because your mom has to work. She couldn’t come to your graduation because of work. She works hard. You do to.
I see you.
I’m fucking pissed on your behalf.
You’re the 302nd kid to walk across the stage and I know you feel alone. I can see it in the way you walk and the way you don’t make eye contact with the staff that is shaking your hand. From way up here in the stands, I can feel the pain of your life.
I see you.
This doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of the other kids. The ones that are dripping in awards that they earned, the ones who are famous around campus for their sports achievements, the ones who didn’t miss a day of school. Yes, they absolutely 100% deserve the recognition, praise and love.
But so do you.
I wish you could have heard my clap.
I see you.
The inequity of the hand that you were dealt makes me want to do something. I want to hug you and tell you that it gets better. That everything will change now. That you will be that American success story, rising out of the ashes like the phoenix, and you will get everything you’ve always dreamed of having.
But that’s a lie.
The truth is, you have to keep working. You have a lot of hard work ahead of you.
You have to show up and do stuff.
Every. Single. Day.
Life is not easy for anyone.
The kids that have a million fans in high school are not exempt. Everyone has work to do.
They might also have to face a hard fall from the high of being on top. They may spend a long time recovering from the ego blow coming their way.
They may also be so hard on themselves, a perfectionist bred from parental/societal/internal pressure, that nothing they ever do will make them happy.
We all suffer in some way.
We all have to work hard.
The thing I really want to tell you isn’t far from the silly stuff your classmates said in their commencement speeches. All that shit about “your life is what you make it” and “you can do it.” I know you rolled your eyes. I did too. But it’s true.
One minute you will feel overwhelmed with regret and sadness.
Then your 8-year-old daughter comes up behind you and gently rubs your temples and kisses the top of your head.
You will have a list of stuff to do that never seems to get smaller and you’ll scream at how meaningless it all seems.
Then your 10-year-old boy brings you coffee while your writing and it’s the right amount of cream and sugar. He sets it down and quietly whispers, “I love you.”
So, yah, life is hard. It’s not going to get easier or simpler.
But there is coffee, soft touches and moments that lift you back up and flood you with hope again.
Now get to work.