My flight landed around 9:00 PM on Thursday night. It was raining in Cleveland, and the rain only intensified as I drove southeast towards Kent. Still, I managed to pull into our driveway just a little bit after 10:00 PM and let myself into a quiet house. Olivia was the only other person still awake, and she was in an existential mood. A young woman’s Graduation Eve is like that. There are elements of celebration, of course, but also unmistakable elements of unsettling. Olivia was feeling unsettled about her summer, her future, her place in this world. So it felt like a special fatherly privilege to sit with her, listen to her, and hold her as she cried.
She’s as ready for the future as any of us. I told her as much, as we talked in her bedroom late on Thursday night. Still, the formality of our rites of passage can feel funny. Almost fake. All any of us can really do is forge ahead as best as we can.
Friday morning was running errands and sweeping off the deck and vacuuming the house. Olivia went to her graduation rehearsal. And when she came back, it was time to go and get Elliot from the airport. Olivia decided to join me at the last minute, so we could get some time together. And those next two hours were some of the best: driving, sharing music and stories, hugging on the curb outside of baggage claim, choosing a place to stop for some lunch.
The picture from the diner turned out blurry. But then again, so did the weekend. Not so dissimilar from the past decade, honestly. I’m not mad about that, though. The experience was sweet and quick and fuzzy. But there was love. And food. And togetherness.
The afternoon involved more bustling to prepare our house for a party the next day: mowing the lawn and preparing food and getting cleaned up for the evening commencement ceremonies. We got to look at some pictures and hear some stories from Elliot’s adventures in Israel. He even brought along some sweets from the Holy Land to accompany his pictures and stories. More love. And food. And togetherness. But before long, we had to eat a quick dinner and hustle off towards graduation.
The ceremony was fine. Some speeches, some pomp and circumstance. Olivia got her diploma and moved her tassel from the one side to the other side at the appointed moment. The graduating seniors all hit their marks, and we all watched proudly. Ironically, Olivia’s 2022 gymnasium graduation felt more surreal than Elliot’s 2020 drive-in movie theater graduation because it was more standard. I guess when everything was surreal, back in the spring of 2020, I just didn’t notice the plain old passage of time. But this time it was more obvious. All of the sudden, two-thirds of my children are finished with high school.
Olivia is amazing. I have no doubt about her readiness for the next phase of life. She’s going to study Visual Communication Design at Kent State University, and this feels exactly right. Still, it’s sobering to feel like the passage of time is picking up with each successive year of life. It won’t be long before she’s falling in love and raising a family and we’re celebrating the graduation of her children.
Still. Even when things feel like a whirlwind, I’m glad to be caught up in it.
After we got back home from commencement ceremonies, Olivia, Cor, and I decided to drive to Handel’s for some ice cream. It just felt like it would be fun to stand in line, there on the corner of Graham and Fishcreek, Olivia’s gown billowing in the breeze. On the way there, we played Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and we sang our hearts out. It felt so cathartic.
The ice cream was delicious, too. Once again, the experience was sweet and quick and fuzzy. But there was love. And food. And togetherness. I expect that the trip to Handel’s will be the enduring memory of Olivia’s graduation weekend in my memory. It makes me smile to even think about it and write about it now.
Saturday morning was all about decorating and food preparation. We hung Olivia’s backpack from the front porch (an homage to the way that we observed Dutch families celebrating graduations, back during our time in Amsterdam). We used every table and chair in the house to create seating areas for guests. And then we waited for the guests to arrive.
Honestly, the graduation party was more fun than I expected. It felt like a true celebration. Our friends and family came with love. And we had a bunch of good food. And there was a profound sense of togetherness. I saw the occasion for what it is: a demonstration of support and interconnectedness. Olivia doesn’t just have to pull herself up by her own bootstraps. She’s got others standing by to help. And that’s really something beautiful to see and feel.
Around five o’clock in the afternoon, things started to thin out. Still, we didn’t end at the appointed hour, and that felt like a success. So much love. So much food. And so much togetherness.
When the last guest finally departed, we worked to clean up the house as efficiently as possible. As soon as the last of graduation was swept up, we had to get out our suitcases and start packing up for Marci’s, Elliot’s, Cor’s, and my road-trip to Colorado. Olivia will mostly be staying in northeast Ohio this summer. And as surreal as that feels, I know that she’s more than ready for the experience of independence and adulthood. It’s all been one big whirlwind: this weekend, this phase of parenthood, this life. But I’m glad to have been caught up in it.