But this was the situation on Sunday at Southwestern College, site for the Winfield High School graduation ceremony. WHS had received bomb threats for several days before graduation, most likely an attempt by bored kids trying to get out of school a few days early.
This kind of joke just isn’t funny anymore, if it ever was, which I doubt.
The texted and handwritten threats changed the graduation rehearsal schedule, caused a temporary evacuation of the school, and put a lot of people on edge. But in the end, the class of 2007 walked across the stage, celebrating their last few hours as high school students and their first few minutes of whatever comes next.
The only tense moment, which was more of a macro-moment, came during the diploma presentations, when two loud pops suddenly sounded from somewhere behind the stadium bleachers. Everything stopped long enough for the crowd to take a breath, then continued just as quickly when we saw that two balloons had broken free and sailed up into the power lines.
It was a quick jolt, a reminder of the unfortunate side of reality today. But seeing my own nephew walk among the 187 grads, listening to their six valedictorians speak about goals and relationships, seeing a World War II vet presented with his high school diploma some 60-plus years after the draft changed his plans, and hearing the administration give special honor to the 13 seniors joining the military after graduation made reality seem more manageable.
This year especially, there were other graduations that make us think about how significant this time of a person’s life really is.
Greensburg High School held its ceremony on the city’s golf course with donated tents and equipment, surrounded by national guardsmen and literally nothing else.
Earlier this May, Virginia Tech gave diplomas to their 3,600 graduates, honored the 32 people who were killed, and handed out class rings to the victims’ families.
One newspaper reported that “(Seung-Hui) Cho’s family will receive neither a ring nor a diploma. He killed himself as police closed in.”
We didn’t hear much about Cho’s family. Maybe we shouldn’t expect to, but somehow that statement depicts how impossible it will be to ever wrap our minds around that incident.
The beginning quote by Robert Purvis is true, in a way. From a distance, everyone does look the same crossing the stage in identical caps and gowns. But that could represent a single starting gate, a clean slate.
High school or college days mean different things to different people. Some may never experience anything better, others may never experience anything worse.
But either way, after graduation day, they can be sure that things are going to change. Everybody walks away with a chance to start over—or just start.