Graduation Memories: Nostalgia and the Naiveté of Youth

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Aw, June… Those sweet, graduation memories.
Everywhere I turn, I see young ladies and gentlemen in their formal finest, holding trophies and diplomas and flowers. Proud parents, grandparents, friends and families. Girls tottering on high heels, boys fiddling with their ties – all holding cards bearing best graduation wishes (and hopefully a bit of cash to tide them through the months, post-graduation).
I won’t lie. It makes me feel OLD… Like, dab anti-aging-cream-under-my-eyes, and think-about-doctoring-my-driving-license old.
It also makes me remember my graduation days, and in my efforts to share my feelings about my new-felt antiquity, I’ve harassed family and friends about graduation days –because nostalgia (not misery – definitely not misery!) loves company.
And who doesn’t remember what those days were like? Put me in a school, any school. One whiff of the hallways, and it takes me back to nineteen-ninety-I’m-not-confessin’-the-year.
All schools smell the same, no matter where you go, and every time I smell that smell, I remember what life was like around graduation-time, when I was all young and naïve, tottering on my first pair of heels, driving myself to tears thinking that would be the last time I’d smell that smell, or walk down that corridor, or see my friends… because my goodness, didn’t we all carry on like we’d never see each other again?
Never mind that those of us writing exams would have seen each other a few days after graduation, or that we’d see each other at everyone else’s graduation party, or that our friends wouldn’t magically disappear after walking across a stage and receiving a medal, an award, or a piece of paper.
Of course, we would all lime in the coming months – but it just felt different that day. We would have made a great commercial for Kleenex. At the very least, we all gave our older relatives reason to remind us why carrying handkerchiefs was a very good thing, as we tried to act like we just had something in our eyes, because we would NOT admit that we were crying at graduation.
Not only were we waving goodbye to our school building (and don’t those ceilings all look so low, and the desks so small now!), we were also waving goodbye to our sweet mischievous selves.
Anyone out there ‘dressed up’ on the last day of classes? Any hippies in pigtails? Any ‘anyhowness’ in the uniform wearing now that we knew that there couldn’t be any consequences, if our shirts weren’t tucked in, or if our socks didn’t match the regulation colours? Anyone else took to being loud (well, talking instead of whispering) in the library just because they could?
No, I’m not admitting to it, but I’m merely suggesting that some of us (not all of us, and certainly not, ahem, me) may have cut class a bit early here and there in the days leading up to graduation. Never mind that we’d have all the time in the world once school was over. It just didn’t mean the same unless there was a rule being broken, even when the rule breaking was mostly in our heads, and, when, in the grand scheme of things, it really didn’t matter.
Then there was the singing of the school song, and the especially inspirational, soul-stirring song (“Lean On Me” or “Wind Beneath My Wings” anyone?). And remember when they sent you home before CXC or A’ Level exams? I didn’t go to school in T&T (being the born and bred Puerto Rican that I am), but my friends have some super memories of the tricks, and ‘wileness’ they did in those last days.
Of course, on the day of the event, there were all those speeches. Speeches by head-teachers, speeches by other teachers, and speeches by fellow students, all conjuring memories your time together and the excitement of what was to come. Speeches by a feature speaker, who still managed to bore us, despite their best efforts. Speeches that all blended together, because they kept dropping words like “future”, “potential”, “real world”, and “hope” – while you were either so overtaken by emotion and the need to gossip with the schoolmate sitting next to you about who was going to the ‘dance’ with whom, and how great your hairstyle or ‘kit’ was going to look.
After the speeches, and the walking across the stage, came all the hugging, and the smelling of everyone’s best perfume, and the never-ending parade of people that you must kiss and be kissed by, and the posing and re-posing for photographs (admit it, you had a signature pose,) until your teeth were dry and your cheeks were covered in your aunt’s, mother’s and grandmother’s lipstick.
Then there was all the effort that went into planning your outfit for the dance – looking for material for your dress or suit in Jimmy Aboud, Queensway, or Bradford’s, getting a date (if you were lucky enough), trying to convince your friend (who had decided to not attend) to change their mind at the last minute, coming up with songs to request from the deejay, or deciding which club to go to afterwards.
Grad night was also the night some of us got our first kiss, or finally danced with the person we’d been crushing on for so long (or more).
It was all a bit much, wasn’t it? So much emotion of all kinds mixed with the remnants of teenage hormones, all of it a strong heady mix, with the only absolute certainty being that we had absolutely no idea what would be next for us. Sure, we all thought we knew. We thought walking across that stage bestowed us with the magical power to see the immediate future – and the future come September – and that what we thought we would be, we would 100% be, as if things in the post-graduation world happened with the kind of certainty that they did in school.
Sweet little things, how little we knew that, once we crossed that stage, things would stop being so clear-cut! We may have had an idea of where we were going, but we know now that our image of that, back then, had nothing to do with what that ‘whatever’ was really like. The only thing we did get right was that it involved more freedom, more choices, and, in most cases, not wearing a uniform anymore.
To anyone graduating – at any level – over the coming weeks, a very outlishous and hearty congratulations on your achievements. We wish you (and those who supported you on this journey) the very best of luck in the future. And we hope that, as you see us older folk standing there, discreetly wiping a tear and holding back a melancholy sniffle (to varying degrees of success), you remember this: we’re remembering our time, too… Because our time? You have no idea. Those were some sweet times.

gradmemoriesAw, June… Those sweet, graduation memories.  

Everywhere I turn, I see young ladies and gentlemen in their formal finest, holding trophies and diplomas and flowers. Proud parents, grandparents, friends and families. Girls tottering on high heels, boys fiddling with their ties – all holding cards bearing best graduation wishes (and hopefully a bit of cash to tide them through the months, post-graduation).

I won’t lie. It makes me feel OLD… Like, dab anti-aging-cream-under-my-eyes, and think-about-doctoring-my-driving-license old.

It also makes me remember my graduation days, and in my efforts to share my feelings about my new-felt antiquity, I’ve harassed family and friends about graduation days –because nostalgia (not misery – definitely not misery!) loves company.

And who doesn’t remember what those days were like? Put me in a school, any school. One whiff of the hallways, and it takes me back to nineteen-ninety-I’m-not-confessin’-the-year. 

All schools smell the same, no matter where you go, and every time I smell that smell, I remember what life was like around graduation-time, when I was all young and naïve, tottering on my first pair of heels, driving myself to tears thinking that would be the last time I’d smell that smell, or walk down that corridor, or see my friends… because my goodness, didn’t we all carry on like we’d never see each other again? 

 

“Didn’t we all carry on like we’d never see each other again?”

Never mind that those of us writing exams would have seen each other a few days after graduation, or that we’d see each other at everyone else’s graduation party, or that our friends wouldn’t magically disappear after walking across a stage and receiving a medal, an award, or a piece of paper. 

Of course, we would all lime in the coming months – but it just felt different that day. We would have made a great commercial for Kleenex. At the very least, we all gave our older relatives reason to remind us why carrying handkerchiefs was a very good thing, as we tried to act like we just had something in our eyes, because we would NOT admit that we were crying at graduation. 

Not only were we waving goodbye to our school building (and don’t those ceilings all look so low, and the desks so small now!), we were also waving goodbye to our sweet mischievous selves. 

Anyone out there ‘dressed up’ on the last day of classes? Any hippies in pigtails? Any ‘anyhowness’ in the uniform wearing now that we knew that there couldn’t be any consequences, if our shirts weren’t tucked in, or if our socks didn’t match the regulation colours? Anyone else took to being loud (well, talking instead of whispering) in the library just because they could? 

No, I’m not admitting to it, but I’m merely suggesting that some of us (not all of us, and certainly not, ahem, me) may have cut class a bit early here and there in the days leading up to graduation. Never mind that we’d have all the time in the world once school was over. It just didn’t mean the same unless there was a rule being broken, even when the rule breaking was mostly in our heads, and, when, in the grand scheme of things, it really didn’t matter. 

Then there was the singing of the school song, and the especially inspirational, soul-stirring song (“Lean On Me” or “Wind Beneath My Wings” anyone?). And remember when they sent you home before CXC or A’ Level exams? I didn’t go to school in T&T (being the born and bred Puerto Rican that I am), but my friends have some super memories of the tricks, and ‘wileness’ they did in those last days.

 

“Grad night was also the night some of us got our first kiss…”

Of course, on the day of the event, there were all those speeches. Speeches by head-teachers, speeches by other teachers, and speeches by fellow students, all conjuring memories your time together and the excitement of what was to come. Speeches by a feature speaker, who still managed to bore us, despite their best efforts. Speeches that all blended together, because they kept dropping words like “future”, “potential”, “real world”, and “hope” – while you were either so overtaken by emotion and the need to gossip with the schoolmate sitting next to you about who was going to the ‘dance’ with whom, and how great your hairstyle or ‘kit’ was going to look. 

After the speeches, and the walking across the stage, came all the hugging, and the smelling of everyone’s best perfume, and the never-ending parade of people that you must kiss and be kissed by, and the posing and re-posing for photographs (admit it, you had a signature pose,) until your teeth were dry and your cheeks were covered in your aunt’s, mother’s and grandmother’s lipstick.

Then there was all the effort that went into planning your outfit for the dance – looking for material for your dress or suit in Jimmy Aboud, Queensway, or Bradford’s, getting a date (if you were lucky enough), trying to convince your friend (who had decided to not attend) to change their mind at the last minute, coming up with songs to request from the deejay, or deciding which club to go to afterwards. Grad night was also the night some of us got our first kiss, or finally danced with the person we’d been crushing on for so long (or more).

It was all a bit much, wasn’t it? So much emotion of all kinds mixed with the remnants of teenage hormones, all of it a strong heady mix, with the only absolute certainty being that we had absolutely no idea what would be next for us. Sure, we all thought we knew. We thought walking across that stage bestowed us with the magical power to see the immediate future – and the future come September – and that what we thought we would be, we would 100% be, as if things in the post-graduation world happened with the kind of certainty that they did in school.  

Sweet little things, how little we knew that, once we crossed that stage, things would stop being so clear-cut! We may have had an idea of where we were going, but we know now that our image of that, back then, had nothing to do with what that ‘whatever’ was really like. The only thing we did get right was that it involved more freedom, more choices, and, in most cases, not wearing a uniform anymore.

To anyone graduating – at any level – over the coming weeks, a very outlishous and hearty congratulations on your achievements. We wish you (and those who supported you on this journey) the very best of luck in the future. And we hope that, as you see us older folk standing there, discreetly wiping a tear and holding back a melancholy sniffle (to varying degrees of success), you remember this: we’re remembering our time, too… Because our time? You have no idea. Those were some sweet times.

 

Image credit: community.sparknotes.com

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Laura Ortiz-Garrett

A Puerto Rican transplant to Trinidad, Laura Ortiz-Garrett is a freelance writer and copyeditor. She works for a US-based newswire agency, contributes to the health blog Hollaback Health, and blogs about daily life in Trinidad, fitness, style, and all things Carnival on her blog “Adventures in Tralaland” (www.laurageorgina.com). When she’s not training for a road race or counting down the days until Carnival, she’s taking pictures for her Tumblr.

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