I've had the unique experience over the last two weeks of attending two graduations that couldn't have been more different.
The first was your typical high school graduation. Speeches from valedictorians, pledge of allegiance, the high school band playing the processionals. It was a relatively quiet experience, with the usual admonishments to please hold applause, etc. What it amounted to was a muted celebration of the mundane.
And really the general feeling was not one of accomplishment, but just of taking another step on life's road. A necessary step, to be sure. An expected step.
I'm not trying to belittle anyone's hard work in high school. Some struggle mightily to get through the high school experience. Others, like myself, skate through on minimal effort and little caring.
Tonight we just returned from a graduation ceremony for students who had achieved their G.E.D. this year. This was a group of happy adults and exultant parents, friends, and relatives. This was an achievement for them, the highest pinnacle they had yet reached in their lives. It was hard work for the most of them, and work they appreciated because they knew clearly what they had missed out on the first time.
The speakers did not speak loftily of the future, of changing the world. They spoke of changing their world, of making a better place for their children, for their spouses, for themselves. They spoke of the struggle to hold down a job and raise kids and take classes and keep transportation. They spoke of real life, and thanked God and Mom and Husband and wife.
The people they brought to watch them walk were exuberant, joyful. They wanted to hear every graduates story, from the girl who broke down talking about the encouragement she received from her teacher to the young man who wasn't sure where he was going to go from here. You could tell they both felt like they had something now that they didn't have before: a future.
The cynic in me wanted to sit back and tell them how little their GED was actually worth, that any job that only required a GED was worth only slightly more than one that did not. But that GED is worth one thing: it's worth more than not having it. For these folks it was a stepping stone to a future they didn't have before, a future they could see but not grasp that is now held firmly in their hands.