Friday, June 26, 2015

Pomp and Ceremony and Such

I’m worried about these next generations of kids growing up.

Every event has to be painted as a major victory. Every task as a major accomplishment that deserves reward.

Last Wednesday, my little family attended my eldest daughter Alannah’s grade 8 graduation ceremony.

She had to have a fancy dress. Yes, she did look beautiful in it, and yes, she is becoming a fine young woman. But this was a formal gown affair, and – well – Alannah’s gown was indeed “formal”.

And expensive.

I put my foot down on that idea. But they bought it anyway.

You just don’t get it Daddy” was the winning counter argument.

When we arrived at the high school where the ceremony was held, the same high school Alannah will be attending as of September, the first thing they handed her were graduation robes. And the formal expensive gown was covered by a white robe.

At that point I did my first deep sigh of the night.

And yes, Alannah behaved perfectly as she marched up the stairs and walked across the stage to shake the hands of her teacher and principal while receiving her diploma – a rolled up white piece of blank paper with blue ribbon tied around it – the real one was home on the kitchen table.

Most of the guys in her class screamed “We did it!” as they marched off the other side, holding up the paper roll in one fist while doing that upside down piece sign thing rappers do in videos. And some of the young ladies were posing on stage as the others waited – “Vogueing” as Madonna would call it – striking several overly dramatic poses as their parents begged them to stay for one more shot.

It’s the eighth grade people.

This school couldn’t fail a student if they wanted to, the parents have to consent to little Jimmy or Sally being held back – no matter how poor the marks. This leaves one from my generation to wonder just what the heck was really achieved?

They had a ball afterwards. I mean they had a formal ball. And one of the fathers happens to rent limousines as a business, so there were a couple of limos parked out front.

Yes, I understand, it's a milestone. Lets get the fireworks ready.

In grade 8, my Dad moved us from Minnesota to Georgia as the result of a promotion he achieved. Minnesota had a very strong public education system. Georgia did not – at least at that time. So when I arrived for my first day at school that October, I was greeted by very syrupy southern drawls that I thought only existed in Mayberry, and to school work I had done 2 years before.

I mentioned this to my teacher that day.

“Well, ain’t you special? This should be easy for you – what are you complaining about? Now go sit back down!”

It was easy. I didn’t learn diddlysquat.

And on that last day of 8th grade at Lillburn Middle School, once the bell rang we all sprinted for the door and the school bus – and went home.

We went home and went swimming.

No formal event. No fake diploma with blue ribbon presented in front of the whole town. Not even a real diploma. That came at grade 12. When you were really done. When they really start to keep score. 

And yes, I not only adjusted to hearing the southern drawal, I adopted it as my own too. It took me ten years after moving back to Canada to finally lose it, although when I get tired, or I get mad, the old twang comes back sometimes. I miss it.

As I walk through our open space offices at work, I see a lot of our younger staffers and our summer students, the age Alannah will be in five and ten years from now.

I watch them walking out of their work-spaces – eyes glued to the screen – reading and typing as they walk – around corners – up and down stairs – into walls – and into each other.

I see them somehow gather together out in the courtyard – likely by GPS and Google Maps – all sitting around a table with the umbrella wafting in the breeze and talking – but not to each other – tapping those little fingers on those little screens – talking to people who are not even there. The odd time one will hold their phone up for another to see – and most often no words are spoken. For all I know they may simply be texting each other.

When Alannah and Ashley-Rae have friends over, the all gather in one of the girls bedrooms. When they were little – before the iPod and smartphone – the room would be loud with jumping and crashing and laughing and giggling. If it were quiet, it would be time to worry.

But now as I peek in on these bedroom congregations, they’re all sprawled out over chairs and beds and floors and tables – looking at their little screens – typing away and reading what’s typed back – and sometimes showing the screen to the closest person next to them – as the music – if you can call it music – plays in the background. Maybe they are texting each other – so that they can record for perpetuity their own conversations.

Good grief.

It’s hard to remember that we are still in our technology based infancy. At some point these things will be implanted in their brains. People’s brains will be connected by WiFi and cellular LTE data plans large enough to upload what they see and what they imagine, and at night what they dream of to the cloud of their choice for friends to like and comment on.

A big thumbs up to a video of your nightmare – with friends commenting “wtf – what u eat b4 U went 2 bed last night lol”

My lovely wife Darlene had her smartphone at Alannah’s grade 8 graduation ceremony. And she used it to take pictures and video of Alannah and her best friends and classmates. And she leaned over and showed me what she had taken.

We didn’t say a word.

I just smiled at her and gave her the thumbs up. 


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