Let me dispense today with the usual harangues and indignations. The end of the world will always be there next week and the week after. But Thursday evening I was privileged to cover a very special event at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach. It was Flagler Palm Coast High School’s commencement. It was also the 20th or 30th time that I was covering a graduation ceremony in my career.
These things can be excruciatingly dull on the senses and a medical emergency for anyone with a sensitivity to Hallmark-card clichés. I skipped my own college graduation a quarter century ago because I knew that England playing Argentina in a World Cup soccer match would be a lot more fun. But there was a twist Thursday evening. My daughter Sadie was among the 525 graduates. I had to wear two hats: reporter and father. Not that for us parents wearing a dozen hats a day is what enables our children to make it to occasions like this. We’re happy to be their hat racks.
My emotions were all over the place, though as clichés go it’s nothing any parent who’s seen a child graduate hasn’t felt: on evenings like this, our hearts and our pride pulse only for one. The din, the pomp, the bull horns and bad lines all either fall away or gild what is already inscribed as an undying memory before it takes place.
Funny how I wanted to walk up to some of the faculty members all evening and hug the hell out of them. You may not know their names from Genesis, but leaving them nameless would pile on the sort of lack of recognition they endure every day. Our school districts do a good job of recognizing their own, within their walls. Our communities do a much poorer job of elevating these men and women on pedestals more often ceded to grubbier, graspier lights: politicians, CEOs, athletes, people who appear on “American Idol.”
I’d rather hear of men like Jacob Oliva, the principal, or Kevin McCarthy, the assistant principal who became my emergency lifeline, always answering his phone. Or the incomparable duo that gives Flagler Palm Coast its academic honors year after year: Roger Tangney, who directs the International Baccalaureate program, and Jim Pignatiello, the chemistry professor more famously known locally as Mr. Pig, who should have a movie named after him called Mr. Pig’s Opus.
My wife Cheryl and I have been harassing these people for the better part of the past two years -- panicking like fools if our daughter was performing at less than 125 percent, or misinterpreting the usual adolescent crises for armageddon -- as we labored to graduation, which is something like passing a kidney stone.
What teachers and administrators take from parents is not easily describable, and so rarely mentioned at occasions like this. The wonder is that they manage to make it through without becoming serial killers, with us parents as their frequently deserving victims.
So this, too, is what an evening like this is about: gratitude and wonder not only for our children, but for those who helped make them who they are, and who get more grief than recognition for their troubles, especially in a state like Florida where education is daily crucified on too many crosses. Those faculty members: they’re the ones who bear those crosses.
So to them I say from the bottom of my -- and I hope every parent’s -- heart, thank you. We could never repay you. And to my daughter and her fellow graduates here and across time zones: Congratulations. You’re ready for the end of the world.
Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news service based in Palm Coast, Fl.
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