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Rite of passage

Before writing, editing, and photography occupied my professional time, there was education, and there was little more joyful in those years than attending graduations.

Without question, topping the list was my daughter Kiersten’s high school graduation in 2006 from Ft. Zumwalt South High School in St. Peters, Missouri, and the memories were vivid as I attended Centre High School’s commencement Sunday. So different — about 400 in Kiersten’s graduating class, with the ceremony in 10,000-seat St. Charles Family Arena — and yet so similar. There’s nothing like the joy that comes from the symbolic turning of a tassel as your child officially becomes a young adult.

Close behind in memory are my own college graduations from the University of Kansas in 1983 and 1985. 1983 was memorable for the withering look I got from my parents when I showed them the birdcage I’d constructed for my cap — I intended to have my parakeet, Bert, accompany me to the ceremonies. I learned quickly that graduation is as much or more for parents as it is for their kids, and Bert stayed home.

However, I saved the cage, painted in crimson and blue, for my master’s graduation in 1985. If 1983 was about my folks, I reasoned, 1985 would be about me and Bert, my faithful companion. Alas, less than a week before the ceremony, Bert succumbed to old age. I toyed briefly with the idea of wiring him to the perch and taking him anyway, but it was the most bird-brained of ideas, hardly befitting my advanced degree. Another rite of passage, burial, preceded graduation.

I recall little of my graduation from Marion High in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year. Our choir sang the then-standard “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Who the valedictorian was, I haven’t a clue. The same goes for “words of wisdom” delivered by some long-forgotten guest speaker. It happened, though, and there was no going back, only forward, out into the “real world” — as if there’s much reality to being a full-time college student.

The one gift from that year that stands out came from Ed and Mary Costello — an umbrella. I thought it an odd gift, and I’m certain my expression of gratitude had a stilted air about it, but it was the most practical and oft-used gift of them all. I was truly saddened a few years later when a gust of wind bent it beyond repair. Another burial, this one in a Dumpster without ceremony.

As a college professor and administrator, I reveled in all of the graduations I attended, reverently donning my regalia to honor the accomplishments of students, most of whom I didn’t know. Among those I’d taught, there was always an inspirational story of perseverance that kept each ceremony fresh with anticipation and joy. Only educators can truly appreciate the dual thrills that come from celebrating students’ achievements while seeing one’s own hand in helping them to reach them. It’s humbling.

Hillsboro, Peabody-Burns, Centre, Goessel, and Tabor students had their rites of passage Saturday and Sunday, and Marion students will follow suit this weekend. Hearty congratulations to students, parents, school staff, and the communities that support them all.

And if you haven’t yet bought a special grad a gift, the past two days may offer a clue — get an umbrella. It’ll come in handy.

— david colburn

Last modified May 19, 2016

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