There are points in your timeline that can’t be ignored even in the depths of the most devastating financial situations: birthdays, anniversaries, deaths. You figure out a way, no matter how small, to acknowledge the event. This week it was a graduation. Emmy moved on from middle school to high school. This was not a noted event when I was a kid but now it encompasses a huge ceremony. Our equivalent was the religious milestone: confirmation. Way back when, it was a time boys dressed in suits and ties and girls donned grown-up dresses. We were then encased in virginal white robes and promenaded in front of the congregation for a sip of Morgan David wine and a paper-thin wafer embossed with an image of Christ, our first communion. Emmy’s entry into quasi adulthood would have to be provided by the school system instead of God.
The good people of Glacial Drumlin Middle School sent us a letter providing four printed tickets to the graduation event to be held on June 8, 2010. The letter informed us our eighth grade graduate was to arrive at school at 5;30 pm, the ceremony was to begin a six sharp followed by a dance for the then ninth grade hopefuls. Rick and myself immediately claimed two of the tickets for the ceremony and the other two were left up to Emmy to decide whom she would like to invite. She wanted her nanny, Angelina, and her auntem (Rick’s sister) to be the other two. Both selections said a lot about the kid we raised. Rick hadn’t seen Sandra for three and a half years. Angelina had been the mother figure Emmy had relied on since she was born.
On June eighth the school still made the kids go for a full day of classes so the beginning of the day took on the itinerary of a typical school day. It was up at six, arrival at the rear entrance of Glacial Drumlin at seven fifty-five, and then pick-up at three thirty-three. Unfortunately, this left us less than two hours for hair, make-up and wardrobe. I don’t know how the other parents were planning on pulling this off. At three thirty-three I was right there waiting in the rain to whisk her off to the Boston Store’s Estee Lauder counter and Rick’s friend Ann’s capable hands for the first step: her make-up. We had done a dry run on Saturday to get the age appropriate look. It was transformational for Emmy. You could see how beautiful it made it her feel. Once the make-up was complete and she had successfully dodged the raindrops under my guiding umbrella, it was back to the apartment and Rick’s sister’s expertise with hair. Emmy opted for a simple straight look given the time constraints we were under. Then like Cinderella all us mice scurried around getting her into her dress, sewing on straps and arguing about which shoes to wear. Was it going to be the golden strap pumps or a pair of black flats? We carried both of them to the car as the debate went on between safety and beauty. Then it was off to the event.
Once out of the car and into the school proper we walked through the cafeteria festooned with streamers, colored lights and a banner reading “Good-bye GDS, Welcome MG”. GDS stood for Glacial Drumlin School and MG stood for Monona Grove, the high school all of the kids would be going to as freshmen next year. I thought the banner meant “Good-bye God Damn School, Welcome Mean Girls”. The fear every parent has when you have a daughter entering the ring of teenage bullying. The bleachers in the gym had been pulled out and were almost filled by the time we got there. There was a stage with a podium and screen flashing stills and video of the eighth grade class that you couldn’t see for all the halogen lighting spilling all over the crowd. Given the formal attire I was told the kids would be wearing we thought it appropriate to dress as well. I forgot I was in Wisconsin. We showed up in suits while a majority of the other guests were in either jeans or shorts and their dress tees. This meant they didn’t have the arm holes cut out or slogans stenciled on like, “Wisconsin: Only 2 out of 3 serial killers live here”.
The parade of students began promptly at six, just like they said. Emmy was seated in the second row. She had pleaded with us before we arrived not to embarrass her. This meant we were not to do anything that might reveal us as her parents and she would then do us the favor of not acknowledging our existence. Her future at high school was dependant upon our cooperation, but she was the first to break the rule when she gave us the smallest of smiles as she walked by. The first part of the ceremony began with an invocation from the principal followed by a series of recognitions.
“For each award we will ask the students to please stand and remain standing until all awardees have been recognized. Could you please hold your applause until all the names have been read?”
And the reading began; honors, high honors, math club, music, The Ali Torhorst Award, athletic participation, student council. After we passed the honors award it became clear GDS had a star student.
High honors, math club silver award winner, all state music gold medalist, student council vice president, all-American sudoku finalist, best speller at the Dane County spell-off – Claire Hacker, Claire Hacker, Claire Hacker.
Other than regular honors the only award she didn’t stand up for was the Yahara River Writers Contest, a countywide competition for essayists, poets, short story writers and political cartoonists. Ten students made it to the finals and publication. Emmy was one of them.
The final element of the ceremony had all the students walking across the stage to the traditional handshake and the handing out of certificates. Emmy, in the end, had opted for the pair of black flats. She had succumbed to her fears of tripping in a low heeled shoe. Claire Hacker should have taken Emmy’s advice as she became the only girl to go knee down on the steps on her way to the VIP platform.
Emmy made it through. She shined. She grew. She learned she has a ways to go. She saw she could do it. Another milestone on life’s journey completed.