Wednesday, June 17, 2020


Four years ago, we celebrated the high school graduates, Max, and classmate, Bella. I know I felt a whole spectrum of emotions, including pride, and joy. I also felt a pang, a twinge, because the four years of high school went by quickly. Very quickly. It wasn't easy, it wasn't simple, yet the foremost reaction I felt, was that was fast, and the next four years could be even faster. It was harder, it was vastly more complicated, but these four college years did pass swiftly, and now we are celebrating, again, because Max is within two classes of completing his bachelor of science degree, as an applied mathematics major. He was approved to participate in commencement for Warren College, class of 2020. (I hope this link will stay active forever.)

Last month, I cried watching the clip of Bella, her dad recording and walking beside her, in the rain, as they crossed the field, alone, at Cal State Humboldt. Michael hummed Pomp and Circumstance. Bella's commencement was about as remote as they come. I felt pride and joy for Bella, and I felt a pang, this time for how bittersweet our celebrations are, when we cannot come together as we have before. Everything is happening swiftly, and we scramble to devise new ways of doing everything, making the best of it, appreciating all the goodness, though we are confronted with real disappointments, losses. I took the time to consider how to celebrate Max's commencement, Alex's birthday, and all of the traditions, and events on the horizon. I was reminded to celebrate, to make something of the occasions before us. Life is not predictable, and opportunities come and go, are earned, and can be taken away... don't waste the chance to enjoy special moments, to make moments special, I remind myself.

This was the last day on campus, as a sophomore, and Maria's first time back on campus since March. Nothing like last year, when we lingered around school, watched seniors in caps and gowns, hugged friends, visited classrooms for last peeks, and even though she was eager for summer, she was also anticipating the next year, returning. Maria has described the difficulty of remote learning, how seeing familiar faces on a screen, doesn't feel like connection. It feels like a reminder of all that is missing, everything that is wrong. Distance learning, online classes, highlights the disconnect. We drove to school to return books, a drive-through transaction. "I feel ok at home. I'm not bored or lonely. I don't think about what I am missing, but when we drive around, and see familiar places, and I know we can't stop, can't get out, then I miss everything, the way it was."

Max's cap and tassel came a few weeks later than they said they would. I am pretty sure it didn't make a difference to Max, but I was getting anxious about the robe we ordered. Like ordering official announcements, the robe was an extra effort to try and create a traditional commencement experience. Some day, this will all feel minor, and it is minor compared with bigger issues, but maybe the bigger issues that affect us, that make us sad, distress us... maybe those are why we need celebrations, caps and tassels, birthday cakes, pride, and pomp, and circumstance.

Happy Birthday, Alex! He found a way to be with friends, and share his birthday. And his experiment with bringing the television outside, assured us that sharing commencement would be feasible, too.

Geoff welded a frame to hold a school banner. (For the record, I also ordered chocolate bars wrapped in prints with the school insignia, and a school pennant that looked much bigger on the website.)

Ruth arrived in time for the virtual commencement, which we screened beneath a canopy, out in our driveway. She also baked pies, and brought a quiche from Holly. We shared in all of it... the speeches, the music and ceremony, the awkwardness of withholding hugs, but feeling connected.

Aunt Holly and Uncle Rich's card put it well, it was Kind of a big dill.

Max had been up, the night before to complete a final project, due at 2 am. He turned it in at 1:20 am, then the ceremony began at 8:30 am.

The speeches, the ceremony... they were genuinely good, poignant, timely, thoughtful. I want to watch them over again, see his picture, his name, and be stirred by the power of the messages shared. It will take more tissue, that's for sure.

An hour later, a conversation started about what's next, about Max's final project, and making.

Seven hours after commencement, his robe arrived.

And just after sunset we lit fires in the driveway, and some of Max's friends came to sit together, a safe distance apart, and we wasted no time enjoying this special moment.

The last four years have not been easy, nor simple, but they certainly went fast.

"So-called mild autism doesn't mean one experiences autism mildly; it means you experience their autism mildly. You may not know how hard they've had to work to get to the level they are." Adam Walton.

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