I barely remember my own graduation from Notre Dame High School in San Jose - not because it wasn't memorable but because it was so darned long ago. I vaguely recall that we girls all wore white caps and gowns and carried candles as we solemnly marched up the center aisle at St. Joseph's Church, which has since been promoted to a cathedral.
My next commencement was four years later when my husband Jim graduated from Santa Clara University. This was in the late '60s and it was becoming uncool to attend one's graduation ceremony so the university mandated attendance. Morris West, author of "The Devil's Advocate" who'd received his doctorate of literature from Santa Clara, was the speaker; he rallied against the Vietnam War, an incredibly pessimistic speech at a normally optimistic occasion, ending with the words, "God help us all."
Even before his graduation Jim had been drafted but I still needed five units to graduate from San Jose State. I followed Jim to his postings and took my last two classes via correspondence courses with UC Berkeley so as much as I value my degree in journalism I never even knew when my graduation ceremony took place.
Years later when Jim received his MBA from Santa Clara, our son Pepe was 8 years old. That was a lovely ceremony in the university garden, which we attended mainly to impress upon Pepe the importance of higher education. We left our 10-month-old baby Zoe with my parents and it was a nice chance for Pepe to be alone with mom and dad for an evening, too, and a nice dinner on the peninsula.
Onto the next generation! Pepe graduated from International School Bangkok. It was about 30 percent Americans, which meant that there was no unanimity on what constitutes a graduation. To the Asians, it was a non-event, merely the step to higher education. But the Americans wanted something special and prevailed. It was held in the ballroom of a hotel with a reception afterward. My main memory is frustration that Pepe had been one vote away from giving the student speech for the class of about 150. His would have been so much better than the mundane, "We now go forward" words of the chosen kid. Of course that's just my humble opinion. But prolific writer Stirling Silliphant, best known for "In the Heat of the Night," who lived in Bangkok addressed us all with memorable words, which unfortunately I've forgotten.
Four years later Pepe graduated from Stanford on a sunny Saturday morning. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, also a Stanford grad, spoke to the assemblage in the football stadium for the commencement. Afterward families and graduating seniors went to smaller venues for the diploma ceremony, with Pepe getting his degree in international relations in the Dohrmann Grove, a lovely outdoor spot. My main memory is that a Rockefeller girl was one of the grads and I thought how nice it would have been if Pepe had hooked up with her - then our investment in his education truly would have paid off.
Next was Zoe's Monte Vista graduation, then a few years later we were all in San Diego to see her receive her bachelor's degree from SDSU in liberal arts, education - altogether a fun weekend at a beachside hotel. The commencement itself was held in the new basketball stadium, where we had a clear view of Zoe on the JumboTron as she received her diploma. A congresswoman from Southern California spoke movingly on the importance of educators, and the ceremony was impressive for the number of advanced degrees being bestowed in so many areas of education. A few years later when Zoe earned her teaching credential she wasn't interested in the ceremony, just in moving back up north to relocate for her teaching job in San Jose.
I always get excited at this time of year for the graduations and baccalaureates, squeezed in between Mother's Day and Father's Day. Or maybe it's the kid in me that was conditioned during my childhood to get excited at the end of the school year. Graduations are exciting and poignant, marking as they do the end of high school and the beginning of something altogether different with a lot of congratulations thrown in between. Is it your turn to attend a graduation? If so, enjoy!
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.