If you fear for the future – the future of a world threatened by environmental, economic and moral collapse – then I know just the tonic for you.
Attend a high school graduation ceremony.
You may be able to smell success, but “potential” has a feel. And that is what will overwhelm you when you sit behind rows of graduates and watch them walk onto the stage as a responsibility of society, and walk off as a full-fledged member of it, clutching their diplomas just as new Canadians clutch the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
And their smiles may reflect the rock star treatment they so richly deserve on this night, and their cocky manner may cover up a discomfort of being the centre of attention, but the audience just knew that their heads were swimming with the big question: What’s next?
It may scare them, but it excites us.
“Us” being those who have been there and have been struggling ever since to add to society and not take away from it. Yet we look at the state of the world, the best we’ve been able to accomplish – the unmet challenges in exaggerated relief to the wondrous accomplishments of our own and previous generations – and we welcome these graduates’ enthusiasm and energy to the everyday challenge of living in a better world.
We listened to the speeches and heard a common theme: do not follow the crowd; think differently; continue to build on successes. It spoke directly to these newest members of adulthood, to their unwillingness to lead normal lives, to their delight in shaking up convention.
We, in the audience, thought,Yeah, that’s what’s needed. And these people are the ones who can do it.
We stopped thinking of them as children and we saw them as leaders.
Sure, we will still be there as parents and bosses to offer a steadying hand, but we know they will be the source of innovation and renewed passion that is always so sorely needed.
These covenants we all entered into at the Cap and Gown, from the perspective of each of our own roles, was endorsed by poignant moments that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Watching my own daughter, Wren, walk off that stage as a graduate is first and foremost.
Next was the traditional welcome of Councillor Jessie Dawson, of Kwanlin Dun First Nation. She addressed, first, the elders (of course) and, second, the students … and then clergy, politicians, et al.
Whether this was a stroke of brilliant understanding of time and place, or a demonstration of good ol’ cultural maturity, Councillor Dawson deftly underscored the priorities of this occasion.
Two nights later, the most poignant moment of all: the prom’s official ending with student and parent/guardian dance. It was Somewhere Over the Rainbow – a song I sang to my children at a time when I liked to think my lap was the safest and most-loving place to be just before bedtime — and we all experienced opposing generations give a little and take a little.
We didn’t waltz and we didn’t turn the dance floor into a mosh pit. We danced as equals, comfortable to acknowledge what one generation can offer another, and mindful that things will never be the same again … and that is a good thing.
The next generation is supposed to grab responsibility with fervour as a biological imperative and, because, after 13 years of hard work, they deserve it. For my generation to willingly offer that responsibility acknowledges this responsibility is going to a better place; for these extraordinary young people to accept it, gently, shows a respect that is gracious.
At this end of graduation season, it is affirmed that the world is all right because, as The Who said it best, the kids are alright.