ebster’s defines change as “to transform or convert.” Gladly, some things have changed in the number of years since I’ve graduated high school. After attending my son’s graduation last week, I can happily tell you that the trope of starting a speech with a textbook definition out of the dictionary is no more.
Gone also are the long-winded speeches from older alums where they pontificate on the changes to come and the duty of the graduates to go out there and “reach for the stars.” Whether it was the pandemic, or just the evolution of the gathering of graduation, thankfully, ours lasted under 90 minutes and wasn’t a sweltering 146 degrees like it was years ago in the Mabee Center in Liberty.
Ours was held at the Hy-Vee Arena, formerly Kemper Arena which, itself, has undergone a tremendous change – slicing the arena in half and making an upper floor and a lower floor. Double the pleasure, double the fun. Thankfully, the air conditioning was working for the 430-some graduates of North Kansas City High School last Tuesday. Sadly, the ghost of Cotton Fitzsimmons was nowhere to be found.
As much as has changed about graduations, much of it is still the same. There is still the 15 minutes of the band playing the same 24 bars of Pomp and Circumstance while the graduates enter the seating area. I remember when I was in the band years ago, I had four years of playing the same notes over and over and over and over again. Even though 99% of the participants wore masks, there was the same familial tone to the students congratulating each other on their accomplishment. And quite the accomplishment it was – in what likely was the weirdest of years for any high school student.
There were other, smaller, differences, too. There was a pace of the speeches like someone told them to “keep it short.” There was fewer iconography of the high school, since the North Kansas City School District rented the arena for four days straight to hold each of their high school’s graduations in consecutive days. There were ribbon boards welcoming attendees rather than signs, and there was a section of seats reserved for those not yet vaccinated.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. There was still the pleas from the lectern to not shout or hoop or holler when their graduate’s name was read. There was still much shouting and hooping and hollering when many of the graduates’ names were read. Oh and the celebrations. Many found it disrespectful, but to see some of the cheering for students who were given less than a snowball’s chance to walk across that stage. I talked with a man from Nairobi who was there to see his daughter graduate. He still struggles with the language, but expressed his pride in watching his only daughter get her diploma. There were the cluster of Pacific Islanders who honored their graduates with necklaces and headdresses made of ten dollar bills. I really wished that was an American tradition years ago when I graduated. And then there were stories of kids kicked out of their homes, tossed aside from neglect or convenience or simply idiocy. Never given a chance, but pulled up by friends and relatives and pushed across the stage so that they might see another shot.
Each one of those 430 souls crossing that stage had a story. Some of those stories follow typical narratives like many of my fellow graduates years ago. Some of them would make you cry halfway through. All of them now face a world that has changed more in the last five years, than mine has changed in .
One thing is certain, no matter the rate of change, the transformation to graduate is, constantly, very real.
(Graduate with Chris Kamler on Twitter, where you’ll find him as @TheFakeNed)