Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Graduation then and now

6/12/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

This column is dedicated to all the 2013 graduates of schools everywhere—with special kudos to my family’s graduates: Paul who is graduating from college; J.D. from high school; and Jeff, my oldest son, with a well-earned PhD from UCSD.

Every year I labor over what to say to a graduate about ready to spread his or her wings. Obviously, I’ve never said anything profound because I don’t remember a word I’ve written and I’m sure that the graduates don’t either. So instead of the usual graduation advice and admonitions, I’m offering a look at the differences and similarities between three generations.

The pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies has remained relatively the same over the decades. I graduated from high school in 1957.  A half century later, schools have similar speakers, music and class introductions. The official ceremony is usually preceded by an inspirational Baccalaureate service. (An amazing tradition since we all know how kids hate being preached to!)

This service is going to be especially interesting for J.D., my 18-year old, guitar-picking basketball-star-grandson. He is graduating from Templeton High School and his father (my youngest son) is going to preach the Baccalaureate sermon. John is a minister, used to speaking to crowds and a pretty funny guy so I don’t think he’ll say anything to embarrass his 6 ft 2 inches tall son or even make him squirm. But then again, one never knows.

Quite frankly, I barely remember my graduation ceremony and I don’t remember the Baccalaureate at all. Today’s teens will remember everything because their parents will be taking pictures and videoing. Back in the day we were lucky to have black and white film (no color) in Brownie Cameras with flash bulbs. And no one would ever have been rude enough to take photos during a public ceremony.

I do remember what I wore to the graduation—a white cap and gown over a skirt and matching sweater set with black pumps. I was not a straight “A” student like my grandsons because those darn math classes dragged my grade average down. I still remember my geometry teacher saying in a note to my parents: “Elizabeth is doing poorly and will fail unless she improves.” I was thrilled to bring my grade up to a passing “C” and somehow managed to still be awarded a Gold Seal on my diploma.

Paul, 23, is graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with honors and a major in Kinesiology. “What’s that?” you say. Well, it’s the study of human movement. It prepares students for careers in medicine and sports as occupational therapists, physical therapists, personal trainers and such. Unlike his grandmother he was able to excel in math and science classes. 

I think more is expected of today’s students than in my day. I had minimal homework in elementary school; an hour or so of homework in Junior High and maybe 2-3 hours of homework in high school. My grandsons started bringing home that much work when they were in elementary school. They looked like pack horses under their book laden backpacks. I actually felt sorry for them. (In the 1950s, we girls had boys to carry our books!)

Proms are different, too. My grandmother made a green taffeta dress with a scooped neckline and short sleeves for me to wear to my senior prom. Chuck sweetly pinned an orchid corsage on my shoulder. He wore a hand-me-down suit, brightly polished leather shoes and we had dinner at Chalon’s restaurant. Then we drove to the dance in his clean 1949 Ford hot rod (paint and engine in progress). We felt so grown up!  He had me home at precisely midnight.

My grandsons’ prom dates are often a group affair. Because the kids can’t drive each other around, they meet at someone’s house for dinner and (sometimes) ride to the prom in a limousine. The guys wear tuxedos and present their strapless-gown-wearing-dates with wrist corsages. J.D.’s parents served two couples dinner, beginning with shrimp cocktails! His date wore a bright mulberry colored gown trimmed in silver He added a purple vest, handkerchief, tie and a pink boutonnière to his tux to complement her gown. Très Chic!

Today’s graduates have an uphill battle to face that we didn’t have—the jobless market. My husband and I walked out of high school and right into entry-level jobs. I had never worked a day in my life when I applied for a job at the Broadway Dept. store. I was hired on the spot to train as an elevator operator and work after school. I practically danced out of the store earning the munificent sum of $1 an hour.

 My grandsons have learned to be creative entrepreneurs in their job searches. J.D. was a paid referee at sometimes six basketball games a weekend. Paul created quite a lucrative niche as a pet and house sitter. He later worked alongside trainers at college sporting events where he earned college credits. As a 20-year veteran teacher turned graduate student, Jeff earned his keep as an experienced teaching assistant (250 students per class) and computer advisor.

Now it’s time to move on so here’s just a little advice (you knew I would)… “Life changes. Deal with it. Expect the unexpected and roll with the punches. Don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up. Be flexible and learn from your mistakes. Stay positive and productive if you want to be happy and make the world a better place.” There's more but I'll stop for now.

Folks, if my sons and grandsons represent the current generation, our future is in good hands. Like so many others, they are bright, responsible and caring individuals. So congratulations all! You’ve made us proud. Now keep up the good work!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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