Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Graduate's Lament

What it's like to graduate from Collierville High -- in Mississippi.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Only one line survived from the graduation speech that the president of our class and I put together: "Family, friends, faculty, administration, and most importantly, the graduating class of 2007, welcome ... to Mississippi."

When my friends and I at Collierville High School first learned that we would be graduating at the Desoto Civic Center, we were shocked. They weren't going to let us graduate in our own state?

The other Shelby County schools were scheduled to graduate in the Coliseum -- and as decrepit-looking as that venue has become, at least we knew where it was. Spending one of the biggest moments of our lives so far away from the place where we grew up was disheartening.

MapQuest.com became very popular the day before graduation. If it weren’t for that, a lot of us would have never made it.

But the decision to relocate us to the Magnolia State proved to be merely an example of how disappointing the rest of the ceremony would turn out.

I've been attending high school graduations for seven years now -- as a little brother. I feel comfortable saying that I've dreaded each and every one of them. In 2003, when the last of my older siblings graduated, Shelby County schools were still performing ceremonies longer than the newest "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. These ceremonies had everything you could ask for: guest speakers, catchy music, and appropriate pauses between each graduate's name. They were lengthy, but felt appropriately so.

Our high school's graduation, on the other hand, was a little brother's dream: You got in, you got out, and you were standing in line at the Olive Garden in just over an hour.

The entire thing felt rushed. They had told us the day before at practice that speakers would not be pausing for laughter or applause of any kind. They weren't kidding. The student body president's speech was about two minutes, and the salutatorian's and valedictorian's couldn’t have been longer than five. There were no guest speakers. Introductions were kept at a minimum. The graduates' names were read in rapid-fire.

It was like watching a graduation from years ago on fast-forward. I was surprised they didn’t take a couple of verses out of the "National Anthem."

Walking across the stage turned to running across the stage. When they called my name, I tried to take it easy. This was my day. It was the day for which I had waited 12 hard years. They weren't going to whisk me through it.

I strolled towards our principal, Dr. Setterlund (who I’ve come to know over the years), and shook his hand. I thought we might have time for a quick exchange, but that assumption was blown out of the water. Just as I was about to say something, the next student's name was announced and I was pulled along my way. Setterlund gave me a quick congratulations and I was back in my folding chair in no time at all.

About 500 students graduated in under an hour. If it had been longer, the rental fee would have been higher. None of us were expecting much. But a few seconds between names would have been nice.

I've never been a stickler for long, drawn-out ceremonies. In fact, I never even understood the importance of a proper celebration until our graduation. But now I get it. After you work long and hard for something, you deserve a commemoration equal to your efforts.

I can only hope that next year's class will break the new tradition set in the past few years of dinky graduations. It's all about money. But come on. Our class earned over $14.5 million in scholarships. I think they could at least throw a few bucks towards a nice party. -- Michael Wassmer

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