Hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” always makes my eyes water a little. The music cues a range of emotions—often a bittersweet sense of endings and fresh starts and occasionally, inspiration.
High school graduations carry the most emotional freight.
Between 14 and 18, teenagers learn and change so much in the intense, sometimes toxic, sometimes wonderful environment of high school.
If asked how they feel about leaving high school, many seniors would speak of boredom and escape: Can’t. Wait. To. Get. Out. Of. Here.
Often sadness is also mixed in, especially for students who thrived in high school. Their friends are scattering. The jokes, heartaches, and triumphs they shared in the classroom, on stage, in sports, during study hall, and in the lunchroom will never happen again in quite the same way.
Whether or not they admit it, most graduating seniors are also uncertain about what’s next. They may talk the talk, “I’m going to the U in the fall,” or “I’m looking for work,” or “I’m enlisting,” but deep down they’re scared of the unknown even if they welcome the change.
These emotions are common and expected, but no less important because they are familiar.
Every year, there are people for whom high school graduation means even more.
I recently read about a student in Florida who graduated at the top of his class in 2014, despite being homeless much of his senior year. His mother died of leukemia when he was 6, and he, his father and older brother were frequently homeless. Despite that, he was determined to succeed
I am also reminded of a student at my youngest son’s high school graduation. The evening was stormy, so his class of nearly 900 and their families crammed into the school. My husband and I were exhausted after being up most of the night with my elderly parents, who’d fallen and injured themselves the prior evening.
The gym was hot and we were sweaty. “Pomp and Circumstance” played over and over and over as wave after wave of graduates crossed the stage. I was proud of our son but also preoccupied with my parents’ health. Getting to the “S’s” took a long while. I tried to keep my eyes open.
Shortly after our son got his diploma, a roar went up in the crowd. I focused my grainy eyes to find the source of the commotion. A dark-haired boy who had always used a wheelchair stood up and walked across the stage unassisted. I didn’t know him, but his determination and accomplishment brought tears to my eyes.
These stories have such sweetness and power to inspire. Whenever I hear the first notes of “Pomp and Circumstance,” I’m reminded of the power of possibility.