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.
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.
“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.