Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias "Today is the first day in the rest of our lives."

"We stand here at the dawning of a new era, full of hope, full of promise."

"We will never be the same after today. We have officially entered the world of adults."

These are just a few quotes scribbled madly by me in notebooks as I've covered commencement speeches over the years.

I call these quotes grad-speak. They're tired, worn cliches that have popped up in one form or the other at nearly every graduation exercise I can remember in recent years.

Vermillion High School's commencement Sunday afternoon, however, was refreshing. I truly appreciated the efforts of all of the speakers, from Barry Vickrey, dean of the USD Law School, to the four Vermillion High School students who addressed the Slagle Auditorium audience.

Instead of drowning us in a sea of cliches, they shared words of wisdom from Emerson and Twain and other notable individuals.

And instead of repeatedly dulling us with lines like "though we've walked through the valley of the shadow of final tests for the last time, we will fear no evil when we enter the real world," the speakers shared bits of reality with us.

I especially enjoyed a remark made by Student Council President Sarah Mollet aimed at not only her classmates, but also at everyone attending Sunday's ceremony.

"One thing is for sure, it's over," she said bluntly, describing the high school education of the class of 2001.

Sunday's ceremony wasn't completely cliche-free. This is not surprising, however, because there isn't a high school graduation ceremony in the country that isn't riddled with a few of them.

Why do commencement ceremonies and cliches go hand in hand? After reviewing those scribbled up notebooks from years past, I think I know.

Each graduating class is unique, naturally. The commencement ceremony, however, is not. Someone else has gotten there first. Vermillion's class of 2001 was not the first class to sit in Slagle Hall in caps and gowns. It was not the first class that, while anticipating the excitement of receiving high school diplomas, spoke of the virtues of education, of friendship, of memories, of the future.

The sea of red occupying the front rows of the auditorium didn't look that much different to teachers or to people like me who likely have seen a lot more commencements than Sunday's graduates.

It doesn't matter. The messages at graduation ceremonies may sound old and trite to veterans of the occasion year after year, but that doesn't diminish their importance.

Graduation remains a unique experience to its participants. It is up to the graduates to make this ceremony, and the new life that follows, truly original. I can feel myself getting dangerously close to stating what is heard at every graduation: "Go. Use the knowledge you have gained here to make a difference in the world. Make something of yourself. Make us proud."

The idea of graduation is to explain to the graduate that, yes, you really are leaving school. You're done. You get to go out and do something else now. You will never again have the opportunity to interact with other human beings of your age in such a closed environment again.

At most graduation ceremonies, none of this gets explained. Perhaps a disclaimer should be printed on each diploma, and it should be read out loud before the students receive them.

The disclaimer needn't be complicated. It should simply read: "Hey, this is it! You're gone! When you walk out of this building, you change."

When I graduated from high school, I didn't leave thinking about how I had changed, or what I had been through.

I left my high school for the last time with not a sense of responsibility, or a heart full of excitement, or a new way of looking at the world. I walked out the building with a red rose in my lapel and a diploma under my arm.

I wish I also carried a tired but wise cliche.

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