We gather to honor small people wriggling on blankets in the grass. Such tiny recipients hold such big dreams, their diversity astounding. Some are missing both front teeth; others “don’t even have a wiggle.” Beyond that easily observed difference stretches a multiplicity of first languages, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds. One dreams of being “a garbage man just like my dad!” then gives his teacher a huge, warm hug. Another wants to be a paleontologist. Some began the year barely knowing letters and now, miracle of miracles, all 25 can read.
That points to the achievement of heroes-never-acknowledged-enough: teachers. Daily, they contend with head lice, quirky language, sloppy kisses, runny noses, petty quarrels, helicopter parents, potty talk, hyperactivity, contagious rashes, endless rambly stories, serious learning challenges, super hero band-aids, vision problems, shifting friendships and discipline issues. For this and litanies more, they are paid relatively little. Nothing can compare to the irreplaceable gifts they give: abilities to read, calculate, and write. Valiantly, they return day after day to the rewards of watching a human being unfold. Our society shrugs off their achievements, then focuses on the really interesting, highly compensated jobs, like tossing a football. But to a small cluster of parents and grandparents, gathered with cameras, balloons and flowers, they walk on water.
It’s entertaining to speculate: will that small boy, punching his friend, research a cancer cure? Will the little girl in the flowered headband negotiate peace in the middle east? Will that one be a distinguished professor, or this one a compassionate nurse? Will one face addiction, another jail, a third a fulfilling marriage, another a spectacular career? Impossible to predict, and probably futile in the rush to home-made muffins and Krispy Kremes.
Thousands of graduations are happening now at schools around the world, and perhaps this one is a microcosm of all such milestones. Neither the certificate nor the applause can capture the wonder: that one who so recently learned to toddle, talk, separate from mom, and hoist a backpack stands firmly now on the path to life-long learning, continuing exploration, inexhaustible treasuries of heart and mind. The whole precarious, tumultuous, soaring, crushing, creative, greedy, generous, flowering, barren, tragi-comic human adventure contains such sweetly endearing moments. Gerard Manley Hopkins said it best:
Nature, bad, base, and blind,
Dearly thou canst be kind; …
I’ll cry thou canst be kind.
Look for the June 29 Soul Seeing column in National Catholic Reporter: “Jew, Christian, Muslim: See the Beloved Everywhere” by Kathy Coffey