Graduating ... From Fear? (During COVID?!){is that even possible?}

On day 102 (ish), my emotions are looping through the five characters in the darling Inside Out movie. As a member of the schools "senior support" team, I was tasked with getting 12 seniors complete the necessary assignments so they could get their diploma. (I'm putting finger quotes around "senior support" mostly because it felt awfully weird to try and 'support' a struggling student via Teams, and texts, and emails and weird dancing emojis.)

We were all swimming in giant, sloshy puddles of fear. Drowning in fear, really.

One of the first students to contact me directly was pulsating with raw fear, because I had written to his parents to offer support. " "You cannot ever tell my dad I'm failing three classes! Ever! I'll just do what you tell me to do, but I cannot stress my parents out right now." Oh, Dude. "I think they'll notice if you don't graduate... right?" Oh, the terror of staring down the hungry eyes of fear, day in and day out. One parent moved out of state so they could keep their income, fearful of job loss. One student, terrified that their essay wasn't good enough, decided to toss the first essay and start again. This was about ten days before graduation. (Yes, it actually worked and the second essay was a huge improvement over the first. But stilll..... ten days prior to graduation... )

Yet when it was all said and done, "my" 12 seniors graduated. By hook or by crook. I was honored to assist with our school's drive-by graduation ceremony. My job? After their name was announced, I'd guide them down the red carpet, point to the diploma cover that I couldn't hand to them, get the student to smile nicely for their official graduation photo, and assist parents with pulling their cars up to the right place for a perfect photo. It just slightly killed me that I couldn't hug "my" kids that I'd helped... I was over the moon, seeing them walk the red carpet, appreciating how very hard they had worked.

Favorite memories: seeing cars JAMMED with relatives, like 10, 12, 14 people, grandmas and aunties and dogs all hanging out the window. Moms balancing out of the sunroof, offering photo pointers from afar. "Fix your hair!" "No, wait, your cap is crooked!"

One car pulled up with parents, but no kid. ? Turns out their graduating senior was not well enough to come in person. "Can we just get her diploma?" The daughter was doing some eyeball rolling via FaceTime. Yeppir, they their cute, freshly scrubbed teen's face beaming from FaceTime.

I took the phone from the parents. "Do you want to walk down the red carpet?" No, that's silly. Parents, a little over the moon. We read her name loudly and then I walked her down the red aisle, iPhone in my right hand. I was kind of stoked, frankly. "Do you want a photo?" No, that's silly. It's okay. "Seriously, let's do this!" The photographer worked hard to get the lighting just right so that was got a lovely photo of her iPhone-framed face in my right hand, the diplome in my left hand. I hope she gets better.

Saddest moments: at least one dozen seniors drove up solo. In their own car. No a parents, no goldendoodle barking out the window, no pushy uncle in the back seat. Uck, broke my heart.

The saddest guy walks up and says "I'm just here for the diploma." No cap, no tassle, no gown. He'd driven himself and wasn't sure where to go. He swipes the diploma cover and when I say "Step over there for your picture," he just says, with a droopy sigh, no. No thanks. I don't need a picture. "It's free ... " Again, no, no thanks. "Seriously, you'll thank me in about twenty years. It's about 30 seconds of your life. Are you sure?" Yep. He walks back to his car and drives away, no pomp. No circumstance.

It bugged me. How could someone have no one to cheer for them? I was so impacted by the sadness of the self-driving seniors, it reminded me of when Sadness lays down and sighs "I'm too sad to walk."

With about thirty minutes left of the ceremony, a guy walks up to me. "Can I go again?" Hmm. I'm trying to think this through. The kids were assigned a drive up time based on their last name. There wasn't a line... "Do you remember me? I was here before and didn't want a picture." O ... M ... Geee! Somehow, the droopy guy that went solo ... he rustled up a carload of friends. He had cap and gown and tassle and a car load of laughing, cheering friends, heads hanging out the window. Yes, he went again. Down the red carpet with a stop for his official graduation photo. Oh! How I wanted to hug him.

Returning dude is the personification of courage to me. Whatever lack of support he was struggling with, he found a way to turn it around. He claimed his rightful rite of passage.

I didn't realize that Pomp and Circumstance actually has lyrics. Who knew? Most of the lyrics are pretty, ummm, archaic ... but the first two lines say it all:

"Dear Land of hope, thy hope is crowned. God make thee mightier yet!"

(I mean, seriously, if I were an English teacher grading that lyric, I'd be like, "Um, okay C+ for effort, but don't use the word 'hope' twice in the same sentence. Hie thee hence to, dude." )

I think we need more ritual in our lives. As we start to emerge (knock wood) from this frackin quarantine, we need to stop, listen the music. Move our tassle to the other side. Get proof that we did it. We survived. That heinous, angry virus nipping at our heels as we ran for cover. With the wolfish fear, drooling and panting and barking and farting at our doorstep. We have, thus far, survived one hundred-ish hunkered down days. It is 102 days for me, not that I'm counting. May we be equally resilient the next one hundred.

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*Unicorns may be frivolous, but data theft is seriously illegal ... not to mention bad juju.