It went something like this.
Dad arrives at the high school graduation ceremony by himself. Rita can’t be there and that’s the sad part of this story.
They give him a program as he enters. Dad stops and looks at it and sees what he already knows -- his youngest son is one of the speakers.
The kid tried to keep it a secret, but the local paper had a story. Rita spotted it. But she soon told the kid she couldn’t be there.
Dad laughs while finding a seat. His son also spoke at the Junior High graduation. And he looks again at the program.
There are Senior Medals. There’s one for Art, one for Science, one for Math and so on. His son is getting the medals for English and The Prospector.
“What’s The Prospector?” he asks a neighboring parent.
“That’s the school paper,” she says.
He smiles and checks his watch. He has to leave when he can. His wife is likely to soon undergo a partial mastectomy for breast cancer.
The rest goes as you might expect. Graduates walk out and take their seats. Administrators address the audience. Student speeches happen.
His kid takes the stage.
The audience reacts well. It applauds when it should. It is somber when that’s appropriate. It laughs strongly at punchlines. One of those lines, coming after an explanation that most of the people in the room knew this was coming and had known for some time, is “We call this The Paycheck Syndrome.”
After the ceremony, the Speech and Debate teacher finds the boy and congratulates him. She gushes. It was the best performance he ever gave and beautifully written, she said. He remembers this forever.
A note on the side is that she was one of his favorite teachers. But she is nowhere to be found in his yearbook, much to his dismay.
The teacher also had him in a class senior year. The kid, a former girlfriend and another girl were there. They flirtatiously carried on, while nonetheless taking care of class business. They had a good time.
The teacher tells him on the side that he handled it well, what with the former girlfriend and the other girl. He says the other girl is out of his league. The teacher says he may well be wrong.
His former girlfriend is at the graduation. A junior, she was an usher. They talked briefly. She looked good. He enjoyed seeing her. It was one of their last times together.
Later, there are parties. Beer is plentiful. The boy has fun and canoodles with a pretty girl. It’s the girl from the class where the teacher said she was in his league. Teacher was right. Life is good.
There’s a point where the boy crossed the stage, got his diploma and a handshake, got the medals and exited.
Dad left soon after that.
Postscript: Rita got better and then got worse. She died some seven years later. The boy was working at a TV station in Peoria and she never got to see him do anything greater than that. Dad lived on and died decades later at 93. The former girlfriend died in her 50s of brain cancer. He later dated the girl he had canoodled with on graduation night, but it was clear to him that she was intent on playing the field. She avoided him at a class reunion years later.
The kid still isn’t sure what it all means or if any of it means anything at all.