Central Graduation Photographs by Jessica Arnold
They will tell you that in the future you will move mountains.
They may tell you that the world is your oyster and yours to devour.
They might go as far to say that your failures will only make you stronger.
Maybe so. Still, they burn just the same.
But when you do come upon a losing streak in life, and they do tend to flare up from time-to-time, I always fall back upon these words which come from a fine sage of a man hammered out of the West Side: “You don’t wanna be ‘the guy.’ Don’t even try. You wanna be the guy behind the guy.”
What’s that even mean? I’m not exactly sure, but my mind is spinning as I sit at Fisher Cat Stadium (always to me, at least) on this gorgeous, clean, bright morning, watching 364 seniors from the Class of 2020 at Central High School file into the stadium dressed in green and white gowns with matching masks, looking pronounced and filled out as they take to their seats, each six-feet apart in left and right field and on the first and third baselines.
Class President, Raiyan Bayumi, played host of the ceremony at home plate as he addressed the scattered crowd of parents and graduates, as well as Mayor Craig, Principal Vaccarezza and Class Valedictorian Alexandra Topic, who is on her way to Harvard in the fall.
Their messages were simple and easy. Be kind, be diligent and be patient. Oh yes, and be kind. Always be kind, especially during these trying times. Each was spot on.
Unlike any other graduating ceremonies in the past, there were ticket limits and temp checks and mask requirements for this party. Which was fine. The event could not have gone off smoother. Throughout the stands, family members were staggered with plenty of distance and room to breathe. Of course, you miss the band and horns and pomp and circumstance, but this was a great lesson to be sent off into the real world. You never get it all. But it all works out, eventually.
In truth, today I’m not just a reporter but I’m also a proud parent of one of the graduates, my daughter Danielle. I can say that I’m no more proud of my daughter graduating with the Class of 2020 than I was when she finally let go of my hand without crying and walked herself into kindergarten (on the fifth day) at Smyth Road School. Thirteen years ago.
That day, I cried walking down the cracked concrete path heading to the parking lot at Mcintyre Ski Area, where I always parked and walked my daughter up to school. What can I say? The kid, she’s my saving grace. The love runs deep between us, the tears spill hard.
And, just like today, I couldn’t wait to launch Danielle into my arms back then, hold her for all she’s worth when I picked her up after school. Smell her face, run the back of my hand across her smooth skin, kiss her endlessly. Tell her again and again how much I love her.
Yeah, I’m that Dad. I make no bones about it.
But she was 5 then, I guess. Today she’s 18, a near full-grown woman — in love, focused on work, on cultivating friendships and trying to wrap her head around being gypped out of a natural senior year of high school due to the COVID.
I tell her all the time, “Don’t sweat it, sweet face.” The Class of 2020 will go down in the history books. Wait and see. She gets it, but she doesn’t want to. And if I tried to pick her up today and lift her into my arms, her highway long legs would wrap three times around my bloated buddha.
Danielle, like many of the other graduates, is heading off to college in the fall, on her own for the first time. That can be a whole mind hump if you let it take over. If “I” let it take me over. All new sounds, smells, voices, routines. Everything will look different and even taste different.
She easily could be going to work as well, full-time, likely at her job down at “Farm and Flower” where she has unloaded fruits and plants, helped maintain the nursery and rung-up the customers the past three years part-time. A spectacular job that offered her much more than wages, well beyond goat milk and blueberries.
Danielle learned what it felt like to work, to really work, and earn your place in life, no matter what or where. Head down in the books or pulling apart a transmission. Teaching children or having children. Making money or spending it. Doesn’t matter, never has. And that’s the beauty of the next phase of life. You get to do whatever you want with fresh legs and an open mind.
But whatever it is you’re going to do, do as the speakers say: Be patient with yourself, there’s no bell that’s going to go off that says, “You made it!” You have all the time in the world to do anything and everything you want. You like business but also like to rock and roll? Do both. Rock out on the weekends and make bank during the week. Want to be a Mom but also grow that clothing business you started online? Do both. Want to landscape for life but also want to get an accounting degree? That’s right, do both!
Lastly, I will fall back again on yet another great sage, this time the poet Bukowski who wrote: “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.”
In short, life is too much fun to half-ass it. Go all the way.
Congratulations Class of 2020. Now, get it. Whatever it is.
Slideshow by Jessica Arnold
Rob Azevedo can be reached at email@example.com