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‘The little toy dog is covered with dust, But sturdy and staunch he stands…’

I don’t remember graduating from kindergarten. But I bet you we had ice cream and Miss Katie hugged each one of us. I’m not too far out on a limb here. Two of Miss Katie’s all-time favorite things were ice cream and hugging.

If me and Yogi talked about life lessons we had learned in the past two years in her small living room, they escape me now. And I can’t imagine we brought up what life would be like in the next stage. We were so young, naïve, wet behind the ears… we didn’t know there was a future.

We were all about the here and now.

And let me tell you, they about “here and nowed” us to death in elementary school! I thought we were never going to get out of that place! It was just study, work, read, add, subtract, multiply, dust the erasers and gosh awful spelling bees. About the only time you could breathe was lunch and recess.

I don’t think you “graduate” from elementary school, you escape!

Miss Mary Ann Jackson, our sixth grade teacher, didn’t allow any valedictorian addresses. Nobody marched anywhere. We didn’t have a “reflection” period. I don’t remember her bringing up the future. And she didn’t pass out ice cream or hug anybody.

She made us memorize AND GET UP IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE CLASS AND RECITE “Little Boy Blue” by Eugene Field and our elementary school days were behind us.

Just like that.

We were so busy living we didn’t hardly notice.

Junior high was a time for exploring. It could be silly. And exhilarating. Confusing. A lot of trial and error. Deeds and misdeeds. Embarrassments! Hard choices. Acne. And a ton of growing! In the twisted, revolving, up and down moments of that “here and now”… school buddies became lifelong friends.

I know what you are thinking. Finally! High school graduation! We got it. We had figured out where we were, were so thankful for our fulfilling past and were looking forward to a future filled with hope and aspirations.

You’d be dead wrong.

We sat in that vinyl-covered back booth out at Frank’s Dairy Bar and tried to determine if we were graduating FROM something… or TO something!

I can’t speak for the others – you understand “cool personified” was the order of the day for teenagers in 1965 – but as Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” blasted out of Frank’s jukebox I was mostly scared. Life up until now, no matter how many peaks and valleys we thought we had survived, was fairly structured.

From Miss Katie to Miss Polly Rucker in senior English, we kinda had to be somewhere. We grew up in a small town where everyone looked after you. And all those “choices” we were reveling in as we grew older were actually contained within a fairly narrow window.

Life after high school graduation was going to be different. We sensed it more than understood it. But I can tell you the one thing we had learned since our kindergarten promotion – life doesn’t slow down for anyone or anything.

High School Graduation went by in a flash. A moment. And it was over. It did, without fanfare or extra noise, end one era and usher in another.

College was a whole different animal. It was hard. I was 212 miles from home. It was sink or swim. I grew up in one day at the University.

So by all reckoning, you’d think by college graduation we’d have it whipped. We were mature, intelligent, learned. We could step back and appreciate the big picture. Take a moment to congratulate ourselves… Maybe there is great validity to that, but mostly I was thinking, “I’ve got to find a job!”

And folks, that was another fearful prospect.

Let me sum up my graduation experiences. One I don’t remember and the other two I was so scared I didn’t fully appreciate. I think the here and now overwhelmed them…

Time is also a great teacher. And it has nothing to do with any degrees that might be decorating a wall somewhere. The longer I hang on, the more I appreciate the process. I love Miss Katie more today than I did when she was handing out free ice cream in her living room.

Those endless elementary days taught me more than I could ever imagine. The turbulent junior high hours might have been the best of all. And I still hear the cheering crowds under the Friday night lights. It is with remarkable delight that I lived through college.

I mostly thank God today for all the people he put in my path. None of us graduate from anything without a lot of outside help. And a push or two. Or a hundred!

It is a milestone. So if you are one of the fortunate graduates in this year’s class, please know you have my heartfelt best wishes. And if you stop by the house, I will recite the entire story of “Little Boy Blue” for you.

It was a gift a wonderful elementary school teacher loved into my heart 62 years ago. It is still in the here and now…

Respectfully,

Kes



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