Way back in June 2010, this little guy donned his handmade mortarboard and in a small ceremony in his school auditorium, he and all his other kindergarten schoolmates were officially bestowed the title of First Grader.
So little was he that in order for me to take this picture, I had to crouch down to his level.
To give you a better idea, here’s a shot at my eye level. I may have even had to crouch down here as well.
Look at that “Congrats, Graduate!” button! It’s almost as big as his head.
Flash-forward to last Thursday at the very same school, a day I would not miss for the world and one I thought would never arrive. Not because Anthony is a lousy student but in the world of parenthood, you see and go through a lot. You also think a lot, and my thinking back in 2010 was “Wow, he’s a first-grader. He’ll be graduating in what, 2018? My God, that’s so far away!”
Yet that day had arrived and all the grandparents and his only uncle were there to witness Anthony’s advancement to high school.
And I have to admit I held it together fairly well before the event. But let’s not talk about the slideshow during an award ceremony a few days before. A few months in advance, parents were asked to submit pictures of their students through the years at the school and I added my fair share. It’s when they were put together with music that both Ann and I lost it. It was great to see them over the years but also touching knowing these days were soon to be over.
At that award ceremony, Anthony was given the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award as part of the President’s Education Awards Program.
I know whose signatures are on it. I don’t care. He would have earned this award regardless of who was running our country into the ground and fiddling like Nero while Rome burned in the Oval Office and if you knew how hard this kid worked this year to bring his grades up to excellent levels, you’d look past that too. It’s something the school believed he rightfully earned and I’m okay with that. It’s now hanging in his room.
Back to Thursday. We all take a seat in the quad and wait for things to begin. Music plays in the background. As the crowd continues to roll in, I stopped in my tracks as Fun.’s “We Are Young” started to play over the loudspeakers. I tried to hold back my tears but I’m human and just couldn’t. That song is one of Anthony’s favorites and I can’t tell you how many times we heard it coming from his bedroom. I realize the true meaning of the song but it’s more or less the hook that really stuck a nerve with me given the circumstances:
We are young
So let’s set this world on fire
We can burn brighter
Than the sun
It’s a pretty strong anthem as it is. Adding a personal connection made it so much more meaningful.
Song over. Music fades. Then the Star Wars theme starts and here we see all the kids filing in from the other side of the quad.
Personally, I would have gone with Throne Room myself – triumphant, and it’s the final scene of an epic story. But goddamnit, why is it so dusty out here?
Once seated and we all recited the Pledge of Allegiance and Star-Spangled Banner, it began. A few of the school’s top awards were given and a some students gave speeches. About 45 minutes later they started to call student names so that they could receive their Certificate of Promotion.
It looked like a concert with all those people holding up phones to capture the moment, but this was so much better than any concert we’ve ever attended or would ever attend. I even saw one person FaceTiming the event which I thought was really moving. Some things get to me and that was definitely one.
By then, parents were all over taking pictures and videos. I stood behind the podium on a flight of stairs to capture this shot of our soon-to-be former middle school student.
I’ve taken thousands of pictures in my life but very few will be as meaningful as this one. A broken ankle, dislocated finger, violin recitals, plays, programs, a little bit of schoolyard heartbreak and the end-of-year picnic, everything he experienced at that school was all behind him now. I have never seen this kid have such a look of relief in his eyes with the smile to match. It absolutely melts me, and I’m sure Dad would have been the same way.
When his name was called, I didn’t clap. I yelled his name and cheered as I took a few more pictures as he was handed his certificate, shook hands with administrators, and made his way back to his seat.
Then, once all the names were called, they were officially declared high school students. We all gave them the applause they so rightfully deserved. I then stood next to where the students were filing out and ugh, I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was for a lot of them and as a parent you can’t help but feel the same way. One of the girls who gave a speech was absolutely broken as she hurriedly shuffled her way out of the quad. Some of the guys – the ones you would least suspect to be moved by this – looked like they had been crying since they got there. I saw Anthony approaching and he looked okay but definitely had red eyes.
I grabbed him, gave him a big hug, told him how proud I was, and took another picture. He then filed out with the rest of the students to the front of the school where things got even more emotional.
More tears. More hugging. Lots of pictures. Did I mention tears? Anthony made the rounds and found as many of his friends as he could and got pictures with them. Afterward, he wanted to go say goodbye to a few of his former teachers. It also gave him one last time to walk the hallways of the school.
In speaking with them, they all agreed: this kid here was one of the most caring, compassionate, and giving students they’ve ever had. One of them even told him that what you learned here was important but what kind of human being you are is just as important. I can assure you they will miss each other equally.
Anthony is one of only a handful of students who attended Newcomb Academy – a name I’ve withheld from the blog since he started school – from kindergarten through 8th grade. This time includes being relocated to another campus as their school was literally razed and rebuilt from the ground up, which is why things look so different from the first picture.
And note the size of the button now. Not so small, is it? (I told him to look serious for this shot, by the way.) Yes, we still have it and yes, we will make him wear it in four years.
But let’s not get that far. I’ll be 54 by then and I don’t want to think about it. But I do want to say this.
Kid, you made it. You muddled through your share of academic challenges over the last 9 years and as expected, came out on top as you always have and as I always said you would. You’ve doubted yourself but I never did. And being that you inherited your stubbornness from me, I know that you’re much to critical of yourself on many things.
Don’t be. You’ll learn as you get older that it’s not worth it and it just frustrates you. Move on. Just think back on what all of your teachers told me about you on the last day and always carry that with you.
A big, new world awaits you in September and it will be much different from what you’re used to, but it will also be fun. Of course you’ll have some bad days scattered here and there but that’s to be expected no matter what. Hell, I still have them. But just keep this in mind.
Mom and Dad love you and are incredibly proud of the young man you’ve become. And although you’ll be glad when you’re all done with high school, let’s not talk about the Class of 2023 just yet. Let’s take it a day at a time.
Because if these last nine years were a blur to you…
…just imagine how quickly four years will pass.
Congratulations, son. Set this world on fire. Burn brighter than the sun. A new chapter of your life has begun and we are looking forward to every second of it.