The Day I Graduated Too

American graduation ceremonies are strange events for a French-born mother. Graduation’s apparel is even stranger. I knew nothing about them before my oldest daughter’s graduated from middle school.

 

 

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For all parents school graduations are strong symbols of the passing of time. Although high school graduations are the most symbolic, the first eight grade graduation in our family marked a significant stage for me. Graduation ceremonies were lacking in France, so everything from the gown to the diploma, from the hairdo to the dance reminded me that my oldest daughter was still my teacher.

When the student body president motioned for all of us to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, although I knew the words as well as anyone else in the crowd, I searched for my daughter’s face among her classmates. It was in a small California kitchen that I learned the Pledge of Allegiance that most students recite every day across America. My daughter was beautiful that evening: The California breeze blew in her long shiny hair, and hours of swimming had given her skin a healthy tan. Our eyes met when she stepped onto the stage, and she brandished her diploma in my direction. My husband searched for my hand and I squeezed his. Our younger children were extatic.

“You rock!” they shouted. “You made it! You go, girl!” Their support matched the other siblings’ shouts of praise.

But the parents, of course, were the loudest.

The constant cheering and enthusiastic clapping, coming from parents clustered around their children, had surprised me most on the California playgrounds upon my arrival in the States. I had observed with a mix of incredulity, amusement, fascination, but also admiration the tireless parents who praised their toddler for tripping on the first step of the slide, for tottering from one swing to the other, or for clumsily pouring water from a shovel into a pail. So unlike the less dramatic French parents. Since I didn’t understand much from the excited conversations, I tried hard to memorize the laudatory expressions, not suspecting for one second that I would someday use them, with similar enthusiasm.

“Good job!”

“You did it!”

“I’m so proud of you!”

For the first time, on my daughter’s eight grade graduation night, I was as loud as an American mom.

While the students left the stage, the band played This Land is My Land, and I couldn’t help the tightening of my throat. My daughter had also taught me this song when she was in preschool.

Many more graduations followed this one. Each one of them was important. Several were marked by my children’s significant accomplishements. But this eight grade ceremony was special.

It was a little bit mine too.

 

P.S. The photo above is my son’s gown when he graduated from high school and not his sister’s when she graduated from middle school.

This photo and story complete my weekly series Five Photos, Five Stories.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. This is beautiful Evelyne, I love that it was through your daughter that you learned these significant things and not the other way around and that this was a graduation of a kind fo you too.

    • Thank you, Andrea. I’m currently going through deep revisions of a personal narrative manuscript oriented around this aspect of my life as a foreign-born woman who has learned almost everything in the States through her children. Not an easy task to do, but I hope that it can be an interesting angle. What do you think?

  2. I always enjoy seeing your perspective having learned things that just always seemed to be there as far as I was concerned. I don’t actually recall being in a graduation ceremony until I graduated from high school, but with my daughter, they began in Kindergarten. They were pretty cute in their little white gowns 🙂

    Nice job on the challenge.

    • My four children had a preschool graduation ceremony. My son’s nursery school went overboard and they also wore white gowns. The children were adorable but the event was short and didn’t have the same symbolic impact that our first daughter’s middle school one held.
      It was a good challenge for me as if allowed me to mix and match photos and stories from my two backgrounds.
      Thank you for your support, Dan.

  3. Behind the Story says:

    It’s such a blessing to have children. We travel through life a second time with them. The enthusiasms we left behind are revisited. Everything becomes new again.

    • I wasn’t able to respond to your first comment, Nicki. Of all people I know that you understand the challenges and bonuses to raise children between two languages and cultures. It is always a bittersweet gift, but I’m glad I got the chance. With my kids I revisited very little from my own childhood since we lived themin countries thousands miles apart from each other. When we are in France it gives me the opportunity to show them where everything happened to me. Thank you, Nicki, for visiting me.

  4. My granddaughter’s graduation was a wonderful thing. I hope I get to see the college one in another four years. It’s a bit strange watching your child’s child graduate 🙂

    • I’m sure that it must be quite something to watch your grandkid graduate. The passing of time is certainly a bittersweet thing. I think that you blogged about it, didn’t you?

  5. Je le lis en anglais, mais j’attends la version française, quand même. Participation de Bernhard( Lorentz ) et de Marie Dhollande ( Les caprices de Cachou ) , je mettrai les liens sur mon blog. En tous cas, merci de m’avoir invitée sur ce Challenge, vraiment intéressant. Des bises, Evelyne !

    • Je voulais écrire une version en français et je n’ai pas eu le courage…
      Mais plus le temps passe plus je crois que je devrais m’y mettre et écrire tout cela dans notre belle langue. Contente de lire que d’autres blogueurs vont se joindre au challenge. J’ai adoré ton billet sur la Grece. Vraiment beau.

  6. Definitely parents graduate too! When I was in school — I graduated high school in 1969 in Massachusetts — I never heard about eighth-grade graduations. Kids went from junior high (seventh and eighth grade) to high school with no ceremony. Where I live now, still in Massachusetts but now on Martha’s Vineyard, eighth-grade graduations are a big deal. Kids are graduating from their town’s elementary and middle school (first through eighth grade) to the regional high school. Is it the same in other places? I don’t know. I’ve heard of schools where graduation from kindergarten is a big deal, but I’ve got my doubts about that. Dressing little kids up in robes and mortarboards? A bit much, I think.

    • Yes, most elementary schools now are having graduations ceremonies. My kids had some in preschool before starting kindergarten, but there were no gowns, only a small diploma. I agree that it’s a little bit too much. Most kids are either pertified or goofing around. When we lived in Massachusetts the students who were in fifth grade didn’t have a graduation ceremony, but on the last day of school there was a bus parade with pans and other things attached to the bus, banners posted on the windows with the names of each student. The drivers drove all over campus while honking. It was a fun way to say goodbye to kids who rode the bus for some of them every day all the way from kindergarten. I loved it! In California my four children had only an eight grade graduation and a high school graduation. Thank you for stopping by, Susanna.

  7. Beautifully written Evelyne and of course I can relate exactly. We didn’t have any graduation ceremonies growing up in England either. We didn’t have proms, only ‘school discos’ which were very different. As I write my memoir, parallel to the story I am telling lies my experience as a young English woman moving from 1980s Britain to California in a world that is very different to the one in which we live today. This was my first experience, but then when I lived it through my children’s school years, everything was so new to me. I learnt with them and so part of me also wore their graduation gowns and help up their diplomas, just as you did 🙂

    • Thank you, Sherri, for another kind visit to my little home. It’s good to read that you relate to my experiences as I am also still contemplating the possibility of my personal narrative/memoir. I am also surprised because I had always assumed that many American school traditions were inspired by English traditions. Apparently not! I always enjoy reading your comments about your life in California since they echo so many of mine. See you around, Sherri.

      • I love sharing our experiences to Evelyine. We learn so much from one another and with each of our own perspectives. I love that 🙂

  8. I love graduation gowns and especially the sashes you get that mean different things.

    • It took me a while to understand the meaning of all of them and definitely helped when my own children got to wear them. Hands on experiences are a must for foreign-born mothers. Thank you, Jennifer, for stopping by. See you soon on your blog.

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