I think it’s the artificial turf that really did him in.
Being a high school guidance counselor at my school means that I have to help 330 seniors, two hours after their last final, practice their graduation march and get ready for the main event at 5 p.m. that evening. What this also means is that I am usually running around like NASA before a big launch, trying to make sure all of my kids are going to walk in graduation that evening. I am speed-dialing mom who is waiting at home with grandma while waving furiously at the teacher for a final grade so I can clear precious to walk. Usually I have three to four seniors taking it to that last possible moment. There are years when I lose three kids, and there are years I lose none.
I was worried this year because this particular class of seniors are, by and large, fucking idiots.
There are a few bright and shining stars, a few Ivy Leaguers, a few witty, charming kids — but mostly they are dim. Which means that I thought I would be spending all of that Friday of graduation on the phone nodding sympathetically while moms cried and screamed. But I wasn’t.
Walking down to the gym where they all lined up alphabetically to march two by two to the new football field, I was feeling good that they all pulled it off.
We marched. We got there. Seniors stood on command and sat on command. The band warmed up, and the singing group (the Supertonics) practiced some James Taylor song I don’t remember (there was no fire and rain in this one). I looked for students that weren’t following directions and made sure they understood that 3,000 people were coming to see them.
Then I spotted him.
When you think a student is drunk or high, it’s hard to put your finger on it unless they are about to pass out. At first I chalked it up to the heat; though it wasn’t as hot as it has been in the past, when we’d finally marched everyone to the field, I was glad I brought a bottle of water. By the 50-yard line, it had seemed a good 15 degrees warmer than it had down on campus, heat radiating off the artificial turf.
Maybe that’s why he’s listing a bit during the pledge of allegiance, I thought.
Nope. But to be honest, I probably would have let it go. I knew he didn’t drive, and I didn’t want to deal with the consequences unless I had to.
But then, being a rocket scientist, he staggered up to the associate principal and slurred out the question, “I have to go the bathroom?” The kid reeked so much of alcohol, Paul told me later, he had to take a step back to avoid being sick.
So of course the kid was suspended and couldn’t walk in graduation or go to grad night. And I had to call his mom and tell her the horrible news. She took it well. There was a sigh and she told me she was on her way to pick him up.
It just made me sad to think that this kid would do something so stupid on such an important day. I am sure he probably did it because he wasn’t really thinking about what could happen while blowing off steam with some of the other meats from his basketball team, but I just thought it was such a shame that his family would never have this moment to remember. Never have that rite of passage in their minds when they thought of him. And though I know it’s not the biggest deal in the world, I think it’s something you take with you to wherever you go next.
Of course, at my graduation, my father videotaped the wrong girl throughout the entire ceremony. We have a lovely record of Megan McCallister’s great moment, and clearly my parents are very proud of her. We joke about it, and it’s still that thing we have as a family, all of us watching her as she walked across the stage.
As I sit here and enjoy the summer break before it all begins again, I hope next year I get them all on the stage. I love that moment when all my seniors are declared graduated, and the chaotic hugging that follows. It makes me feel like I did my job.
3Jake is a guidance counselor in California’s Bay Area. She once had a blog.