Last night, my brother Aidan graduated from middle school. As we all know, middle school graduations are bullshit. They are ceremonies that mark the end of one harrowing phase of existence and the beginning of another, hopefully less difficult but probably just-as-good-at-draining-any-self-esteem-you-possessed, phase. Therefore, I was prepared to be bored and annoyed and awash with feelings of second-hand embarrassment for Aidan and his peers last night. But instead, I found myself surprisingly entertained and feeling very proud of my brother.
I arrived at the school 30 minutes before the ceremony and sat in the seats my family had saved. I quietly read a book as hundreds of parents and friends of the graduates buzzed all around me, as if they were attending a coronation. (Props to my mom for that comparison. It was spot on.) At one point, a parent sitting near us asked me my name. She knew I was a Flannery, but didn’t know which one. This is a common observation, often made to my face. As soon as I told her my name, another mother, seated behind us, jumped in. “Oh, you must know my kids,” she said. She gave me their first names, which were fairly ordinary and therefore not totally recognizable to me.
“Uh,” I said, my face likely contorted in confusion. She repeated their names. Still, nothing. She gave me their last name. I had never heard of them. I told her that I graduated from high school in 2005 and that I’m almost 26, hoping that would help her.
“Oh, you look so young! I thought you were in 11th grade.” Everyone around her agreed. I told her that I would take that as a compliment, which I do, because there are plenty of people my age who are starting to look not-so-young these days. It turned out that her kids were like 14 and 16 and one of them was graduating with Aidan. So yeah, I definitely don’t know them.
Once my mom reappeared from flitting around the crowd, saying hello to everyone in attendance that she has ever met, I asked her when the ceremony was going to start. Apparently, she told me, the principal had told the boys at their practice session that there was no dress code, so some of them showed up without jackets and ties, while others did because that was the dress code printed on the invitation. Of course, some of the mothers would die rather than see little Winston or Thatcher graduate from the eighth grade in just a dress shirt, so they took them home to get a jacket and tie and held up the beginning of the ceremony for a few minutes longer than I would have liked.
Finally, it began and we watched Aidan, dressed in a dapper new bow tie and Nantucket reds, process in with the rest of his classmates. The ceremony started off with the Pledge of Allegiance, which for a moment I was afraid I had forgotten, and an opening speech by Aidan’s principal. I have to say, I tuned out for most of this speech. Earlier that week, I’d learned that the principal had “changed” – and by that I mean, censored – a short speech that Aidan was to give later in the ceremony. He took out any specific mentions that Aidan made of classmates and teachers and events, nearly ridding the speech of its context and originality and transforming it into a collection of empty statements about the meaning of middle school. All of this was apparently so that no one’s feelings would get hurt. I think, though, if someone’s feelings are hurt by a mention or non-mention at a speech given during middle school graduation, the memory of that will fade quickly enough. And if it doesn’t…Well, kid, you’ve got a rough life ahead of you. Anyway, I did not clap at the end of the principal’s speech.
When the six or seven kids chosen to share their remarks spoke, they were perfectly poised and lovely, delivering ruminations and a few extended metaphors about friendship and growing up to the crowd. If I may say so, I found Aidan’s speech to be the best. (This statement was not made with the intention of hurting anyone’s feelings. It was truly good. Also, he’s my brother.) He was witty and thoughtful and he even called out a teacher by name, because it was important to his point about learning about integrity during his eighth grade year. I was so proud of him for not letting anyone get him down. It’s one of his greatest qualities.
Soon, the ceremony was over and we joined the reception on the school lawn. It was amusing to reflect on all of the times I stood on that same lawn, all dressed up like an adult like Aidan and his classmates were, with my own friends and classmates. I’ve watched many of Aidan’s peers grow up over the last thirteen years, either because they’re friends of his or because I babysat them long, long ago. I sincerely hope that they continue to enjoy one another’s company – or at least, aren’t too horrible to one another – during the next four years they have together.
We ended the night without Aidan, who attended a party with his entire class at our country club. We happened to eat dinner downstairs from the party on the terrace, looking out on the pool where I spent most of my days during the summers of my childhood. If I’d let myself reminisce anymore than I did last night, I probably would have gotten sentimental. But I didn’t, really. I was too busy laughing along with my family and all of our weird memories of days past and stories we’ve recounted a thousand times. No one mentioned that we’ll never have another middle school graduate. I think this was for the best. We’re all ready to move on to the next chapter.