Street Talk: Looking for a graduation do-over

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At every high school graduation I cover for the paper, I meet that same kid.

He’s the handsome guy, chronically smiling in his cap and gown, who always has a perfect answer at the ready when I ask about his plans.

“Well, tonight a bunch of us are heading to Old Orchard Beach, where we have an oceanfront condo rented for the night. We’ll have a bonfire on the beach and party until dawn. Then in the morning, we’re off skysurfing from 14,000 feet before we head south for a dirt biking trip to the lower tip of South America. After that, I’ll spend the rest of summer circumnavigating the globe in a kayak before it’s off to UCLA to study entertainment management. Got an internship at the Playboy Mansion.”

Sometimes, as I’m writing all this down, my pen rips the notebook right in half. Because while I admire the hell out of that kid, I hate him a little bit, too.

Envy is an ugly thing.

I think back to my own departure from high school and, while the details are a bit hazy, I don’t recall it as an elegant and hopeful affair.

There were only six of us at the ceremony, for one thing, because I finished my high school career in night school, along with a handful of kids who had somehow managed to fail gym or shop.

We didn’t all have the foresight to rent gowns for the occasion, so a few of the graduates simply wrapped themselves in towels, garbage bags or shower curtains that matched the school colors. We made caps out of old pizza boxes and tassels out of sneaker laces and roach clips.

There was no pomp. No circumstance. I think there might have been music, but it consisted mainly of my old pal Rusty blasting Skynyrd from his Subaru Brat in the parking lot. The only ones taking pictures at the event were police officers trying to get a jump on the mug shots that were sure to come.

No reporters covered the event, but if I’d been asked about my future plans, it might have gone a little something like this.

“Gonna get hammered in the parking lot and smoke a carton of Marlboros, yo. Then I’m back to work pumping gas at the Puffin Stop with that side gig flipping hot dogs on the weekends. Plans? Yeah, I got plans, man. Figure I’ll just keep pumping petrol until I either invent something worth a million dollars or write a bitchin’ screenplay about cocaine dealing ninjas or something. Hey, you wanna sign my yearbook? I made one out of old newspaper and a High Times magazine.”

I exaggerate for effect.

You could say I lacked focus when I graduated from high school, but you’d be badly understating things. Getting my diploma meant nothing to me, and I completely undervalued the importance of the position I was in.

Plans were for suckers, man. The best approach to life was to do absolutely nothing and just let life rain good fortune down upon your head. Surely, things would turn out just fine without any effort on my part.

I was a complete fool at 18, if you can believe it. Not like so many of the kids these days who seem to grasp the idea that life is something that has to be embraced, wrestled to the ground and kissed square on the lips.

After one recent graduation, I talked to a 17-year-old in the Colisee parking lot about the capriciousness of life and all that noise.

“Look,” he said. “I’m only going to be young once and I know it. I’m going to celebrate like crazy tonight, but, after that, I really plan to make the most out of every day because I have a feeling they’re going to go by fast.”

Smart kid. Brilliant, even. My hope is that he’ll go on to study quantum physics, invent a time machine and then travel back to my graduation night and kick me square in the buttocks.

Or maybe not.

After one of these graduation gala events, I was moping about my own past and bemoaning the squandered opportunities of yore. I mentioned my pathetic, pizza box graduation night to an old friend from back in the day.

“What are you talking about?” he said. “Your graduation night was awesome. A bunch of us took our girlfriends camping out in the woods on Snow Pond that night and blasted some fireworks. We had a big ol’ bonfire and you torched all your school books while talking about how you were going to be a writer someday. You read one of your creepy short stories around the fire, and Kim got so scared she actually agreed to sleep in your tent. Then, we all went skinny dipping and a raccoon took off with Marjorie’s tube top. That night was a blast, bro!”

Go figure. Apparently, my own graduation wasn’t lame. It’s just that time made me forget the joy that was eked out of it. I didn’t get to kayak around the globe, maybe, but fireworks and skinny dipping? I can live with that.

And as long as we’re all being honest with one another here, I guess I should go ahead and confess that it wasn’t a raccoon that made off with Marjorie’s tube top. It was me.

All things considered, I regret nothing.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Hold onto your tube tops and email him at [email protected]

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