Time marches on

By Kris Ferrazza | Jul 14, 2020

Our daughter officially graduated from middle school the other night. There was no marching, no pomp, no circumstance. Instead of dressing up, we wore T-shirts, shorts and flip flops. There was no party. Everything was safe and pandemic appropriate. Best of all, we were back home in less than an hour.

There was a virtual graduation followed by a “drive through” event to pick up certificates. We waited in a queue of cars, then were waved ahead by an enthusiastic school mascot when it was our turn. I stopped in front of the school entrance, which was festooned with balloons and banners.

“Is this the Trump rally?” my husband playfully shouted from the open window as I put the car in park.

“Let’s not,” I scolded, as school administrators tried to identify the joker behind the face mask.

I announced who we were and shushed my better half, trying to make things easier for the principal and vice principal. My husband likes to crack jokes when things are uncomfortable, just to break the ice. Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s not.

Although it was a happy occasion, all five of us were wearing masks. Other students and their families were watching from their idling cars. It was a beautiful summer night, but everything about the situation screamed, “this is not normal.” Apparently this is how we live for now.

Our 14-year-old was excited to visit her old school one last time. She thanked the administrators, received their congratulations, took some photos and wished them a happy summer vacation. Then we were off.

We were thankful for the opportunity and almost giddy to be out of the house. Days before, we had celebrated her promotion in our own small way. On the last official day of school, I made a mortarboard out of yellow cardstock and decorated it. Then I baked cupcakes.

I had no plans for anything else, until a sibling came to the rescue with the offer of a celebratory one-truck “parade” past our house. I jumped at the offer. So at the appointed time, we called our newly minted freshman to the front porch. A lone pickup approached, horn honking, posters flapping in the breeze. She grinned from ear to ear.

“Who is that?” she asked over and over, clearly delighted with the special attention. They presented Elizabeth with thoughtful and funny gifts including hand sanitizer and toilet paper. We sat in one place and they sat in another, as we all social-distanced in the backyard. We didn’t share food. They ate their picnic and we ate ours. It was fun but strange, enjoyable yet disorienting. These are confusing times.

School administrators and teachers went to the trouble of recording an entire graduation ceremony for the eighth-graders who could not congregate due to health and safety guidelines. So instead of packing the gym with 700 people in sweltering heat, we watched the virtual promotion on our television at home.

We stretched out on our sofas, ate snacks and listened as students led the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Teachers and other school staff gave out special awards via video. They praised the teens and honored them for being scholarly, community-minded, respectful, responsible and positive role models.

Finally the names of more than 130 students were read and school photos shared to commemorate the actual promotion to ninth grade, which concluded the 40-minute celebration. It was fun to watch. We were proud to see our daughter receive a special award from the New England League of Middle Schools. Then we cheered when they announced her name and flashed her photo on the screen as a member of the graduating class.

As unusual as it all was, it ended up being an upbeat celebration of Elizabeth’s achievement. We try to make the best of things, it’s just what we do. So we have tried to use this unusual year as a teachable moment.

Our teen understands that a global pandemic means there is no graduation and no eighth-grade formal. Yes, she had a pretty dress for the occasion. Yes, she is disappointed. But kids are resilient and perspective is everything. She can read the situation and thankfully is mature enough to “get it.”

It seems like only yesterday I was writing a column about Elizabeth leaving her neighborhood grammar school for the big, scary middle school across town. Now she’s already moving on to the high school across campus. Two years flew by in a blink.

To try to make sense of it all, I went to my digital photo archives and called up pictures I’d taken at her previous promotion ceremonies. Sometimes I just need to see it to believe it.

First there was a preschool graduation, where she had jammed her 5-year-old self into her classroom cubby while wearing a frothy pink dress and silver shoes. The three of us jubilantly celebrated in a booth at Moody’s Diner afterwards.

Next came her kindergarten promotion. The photos show a 6-year-old skipping joyfully down the corridor at school. Her blue dress matches a construction paper mortarboard with “Elizabeth” spelled out in silver glitter.

Then it was the sixth-grade promotion. Bucking the trend of makeup and kitten heels, my then-12-year-old picked out a polka-dotted dress, lace bobby socks and flats. We ate a picnic lunch in the courtyard and she sat on a rock next to a friend she’s had since kindergarten.

What struck me most about all of these photos was that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Elizabeth has maintained her sunny disposition, stayed true to herself and navigated nine years of school with aplomb. It was just the moment of clarity I needed.

In the future I can see myself looking back on this year’s eighth-grade promotion photo. What I’ll see is a brave 14-year-old smiling behind a mask, though she hasn’t seen her friends in months. I think she’s ready. High school, here we come.

And the beat goes on.

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