Friday, June 23, 2006

Will We Really Remember?

Ask Mr. Long IslandBY MICHAEL WATT

“We’ll Remember Always…Graduation Day.”

That’s what Brian Wilson wrote a few hundred years ago, back when he was cranking out heartwarming hits for the Beach Boys and before he hit the sandbox. At least I think it was him. Assuming it was, is he right? Sure, we all remember the stupid song – at least those of us of a certain age do – but what do you REALLY remember from your graduation day?

I know I sat through four graduation ceremonies: eighth grade, high school, college and post-graduate, and the only thing I can remember about all four is that graduation gowns can seem warm and heavy, especially if you, eh, “celebrated” your impending diploma receiving the night before.

At least that is what I remember from college. I worked the night before my high school graduation, after staying out all night the night before that attending my senior prom. So I equate my high school graduation experience with being very, very tired. Same with the post-graduate experience. For some unfathomable reason I decided to enroll in an MBA program three days after my youngest son was born. Nothing like capping off a night of term-paper writing with a three a.m. feeding. By the time graduation rolled around I was a zombie. Eighth grade? All I remember from my eighth grade ceremony is walking away from it wishing I had that two hours of my life back.

I’m sure there were speeches given at each of the ceremonies but I am afraid I was not taking notes and therefore have little if anything report. Eighth grade? Pfft. Forget about it. If you put a gun to my head I might remember that the principal spoke but that’s only because it would make sense that he did. At my high school graduation I recollect that my friend Ronny was the senior class president and gave a speech that ticked a few people off. I don’t remember exactly what he said, mind you, just that he did. The truly scary about my not remembering anything from his speech? I wrote it for him. Yikes!

College graduation was a little better, from what I recall through the haze of the morning after. The late J.J. Quinn, S.J., a friend and a Jesuit, gave a truly inspiring sermon at the baccalaureate Mass and then proceeded to walk off the stage, becoming the first and only priest I have ever known to leave Mass before it was over (he did grab a bulletin on the way out just to cover his tracks). Unfortunately I have nothing to report from that sermon, other than it was touching. I can share with you, however, that a few years ago when J.J. spoke at the Mass celebrating his 60th anniversary as a Jesuit priest he shared this thought with the congregation: “Life is not measured by years, but by celebrations of the heart.” Nice.

Later that day Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, then the president of the University of Notre Dame spoke at my commencement. Fr. Hesburgh encouraged us to live a life full of commitment, compassion and competence. Good advice. After that my mind might have trailed off a little. I do remember thinking this, though: “If I had known I was going to make it (to graduation) I wouldn’t have worried so much along the way.” I think that was the first time I realized that worrying about things is a waste of time and energy.

When my sister Ann graduated from Fairfield University in 1999 the commencement speaker said something that stuck with me. As profound as it was, however, I have zero recollection of the speaker’s name or why he was deemed worthy of speaking. He shared with the audience how thrilled and honored he was to have been selected as the commencement speaker for the last graduating class of the 20th century for such an esteemed institution of higher learning as Fairfield University. “I recognize,” he added, “that the commencement speaker at a graduation is a lot like the corpse at a wake. Technically you are there because of him but in reality all you want to do is talk and commiserate with each other.” Now that’s humble.

My son Max had his “moving up” ceremony yesterday, acknowledging his transition from sixth grade to the Babylon Jr./Sr. High School. There were no speeches, per se, just a lot of nice, hard-working people acknowledging each other and congratulating the students for making it through grammar school. Max graduates from high school in six years. Alex, his older brother, in two. I doubt I will be asked to speak at either ceremony but that won’t stop me from trying to come up with something profound to say so that they remember their day. Or perhaps I’ll just borrow a line from Brian Wilson that will be sure to have an impact on my boys. Something along the lines of, “the girls on the beach, are all within reach, if you know what to do.”

Thank you for reading this column.

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