Today’s topic is: “When I was eighteen years old…”
Around these parts, it is high school graduation season, and that means parents of graduates are going all-out: glossy announcements with professional photographs of their smiling graduates, catered parties for everyone they know, and in some cases, generous graduation presents.
During my first five years here (that is to say, until earlier this week), I didn’t understand why these parties were made into such a big deal. (To be fair, my daughters are three and two years old, so I will almost certainly feel differently about this in fifteen years.) Many of these graduates are headed off to college, or have already started taking college courses, or have lined up post-graduation jobs, or have been working part-time during high school. So I wondered why all the effort (and expense) for something that isn’t really the end?
When I graduated from high school a million years ago (in 1994), we all knew that I was headed off to college in the fall, so my high school graduation was more of a temporary pause than an ending.
I did many of the usual graduation activities. I had senior portraits taken at a local studio, one of which was used for my yearbook photo.
On the big day, my parents invited my grandmother and two of their close friends to celebrate while I got dressed up. Then we took pictures together in my cap and gown and headed to the high school football field for the ceremony.
My graduation gift from my parents was a shiny wooden jewelry box with an engraved brass plate stating my name and the date. I still use it today as my one-and-only jewelry box, although the quality of its contents has improved gradually over the last two decades.
But this week, a light bulb went on!
For the graduates (and their parents) whose parties I attended yesterday, this was more than just celebrating a graduation. The party marks the end of youth; a rite of passage, like celebrating a quinceañera (at 15 in the Latino culture) or a bar or bat mitzvah (at 13 in the Jewish community). It should be renamed a “Good Luck Adulting” party (although I suppose it would be harder to find decorations for that.)
When I think back to my own transition into adulthood, I remember feeling like a grown-up on the day I wrote out my first rent check. Something about using my own bank account to pay for utilities seemed very adult. It was in my third year of college.
Do graduation parties carry a larger meaning in your community? Share your thoughts in the comments.
~ Phoebe DeCook