This post was written in response to a prompt from the red dress club:
Well, now that school is officially over, I can confess that V never graduated. I will never forget the excitement of that day: The beautiful dresses; the carefully-applied makeup; hair combed and styled and sprayed just so. Cameras and camcorders and grandparents and diplomas wrapped up in yellow ribbons. Her older sister, offering advice.
My husband went out to the lawn to claim a few of the folding chairs that had been set up hours earlier in preparation for the big event. I took V to the assigned room.
She paused at the entrance. “I’m not doing it, Mom.”
The teacher met us at the door, gesturing wildly. “Come in! Come in! Hurry up and get ready!”
“She doesn’t want to.”
The teacher’s eyes goggled. Her hands paused in their waving. “But she must.”
A grandmother approached and pressed a mortarboard into my hands. “Let me talk to her,” she said, as if she could move the steady rock that is my child. “Everyone else is doing it, honey.”
“She doesn’t want to,” I said.
“But she has to.”
“She doesn’t have to.” I handed back the mortarboard.
Parents stared, aghast.
“Let’s go outside,” I said to V. We joined my husband on the folding chairs. We shook our heads and laughed at V’s tenacity. I told her she was like her uncle, who’d refused to attend his college graduation ceremonies.
The teacher brought out a dilapidated cassette player and a wooden bridge festooned with ribbons—the same bridge used by Brownies becoming Girl Scouts. She pressed a button on the player and a scratchy rendition of Pomp and Circumstance started to play. Graduation had begun.
A line of preschoolers filed from the school. One at a time, they were handed their diplomas. One at a time, they flipped their tassels. One at a time, they crossed the little wooden bridge. Parents pressed tissues to their eyes and waved and shouted to their children: “Look over here!”
V watched without signs of regret. After the ceremonies, we drank watery punch and ate homemade brownies and helped clean up before going home for the next stage of V’s life: Kindergarten.
But suddenly, I find that V is approaching high school graduation. She wants to travel; to see the world before settling in at college. “That’s fine,” my husband and I tell her.
“But everyone else is going right to college,” she says. “What will they think?”
What has happened to my little girl? What has happened to her resolve and her confidence and her firm belief that what she is doing is right, even if other people think it’s wrong?
I didn’t celebrate a graduation all those years ago, but I did—and do—celebrate that independent spirit within my daughter. And I hope that, when she makes decisions about her life, she celebrates and honors that spirit as well.
Labels: College, Daughters, Girl Scouts, Growing up, Raising Children, the red dress club: