The graduate

by Debbie Carini

Seventeen years ago, I volunteered to help make the caps for my daughter’s preschool graduation class.  It seemed impossible, at the time, that she was already on her way to kindergarten—hadn’t she just mastered walking and talking and eating with the “big girl” spoon and fork?

As an inveterate crafter, I always have some yarn on hand, so I offered to put together the tassels that would dangle from the sides of the traditional mortarboards that other parents were gluing together from recycled file folders. The kids colored these and, voila!, a graduating class was on its way to the big time—real school, with ABCs, 123s and…drum roll…a permanent record!

As I sat in the audience watching my 4-year-old march across the stage to the tune of Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance to receive her “diploma,” I couldn’t help but recall my own kindergarten graduation from Sacred Heart School in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.  

In 1965, Vatican II was on its way to modernizing the Catholic Church, but I was still being taught by nuns who were draped in layers of fabric, wimples covering all but their eyes, noses and mouths (I’m just going to admit it right here that I spent most of the 3 years that I attended Catholic school, from the ages of 5 to 7, wondering if my teachers had hair, and if they slept in their habits and, also, why did they all have men’s names?).

At the Sacred Heart ceremony, we donned miniature caps and gowns that were rented from some Lilliputian professional costume company (my cap kept sliding off my unusually large head—still an issue with hats and headbands—so my mother stuck Bobby pins in it to hold it in place, an early form of acupuncture).

Sister Frederick kept time to the classic piece by slapping her ruler against the palm of her hand as we marched, in procession, with the words Sister James had taught us days earlier fixed in our brains: “Let’s do the slow walk, hands down by your side.”

Now, think of the music—Pomp and Circumstance—and imagine repeating those words to yourself, over and over. So deeply ingrained in me was this mantra, that I found myself repeating it at my high school, and then college graduations. I am the one who is not waving to her parents in the home movies of these occasions because my hands are down at my side!

Two weeks ago, Sir Elgar’s March No. 1 rang out again, this time as my darling daughter proceeded towards The Green at Tufts University to receive her bachelor of arts degree (with honors, proud mama moment!!). Of course, I thought of Sister Frederick and her round, wire-rimmed glasses, and her omnipresent ruler.

As the music started, I sat, hands down at my side, and watched with mixed emotions. I felt immense pride and melancholy (are we all really this old?) and just a little bit of envy (gosh, to be 22 again!) as my daughter did the slow walk up to the podium, to a bright future, and a world filled with exciting opportunities.



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