Finding hope in a cap and gown
When my friend Pat Deutschman was on the Citrus County School Board, we talked plenty about kids.
“Kids” was her term. Whether little ones or high school seniors, Pat never wanted to forget that kids were the school district’s precious cargo.
Not politicians. Not voters. Not anyone else.
Always the kids.
My Chronicle career included covering the school board, which was OK. But the real joy came from visiting schools where I’d be in classrooms, spending an hour watching teachers and kids do something cool.
I was visiting a school one day many years ago and saw something extraordinary. A kindergarten teacher led her kids into a classroom where they sat down and, out loud, counted to 10 in CHINESE!
“It’s just something I taught them,” the teacher said when I inquired.
This is graduation week in Citrus County, traditionally one of the most exciting times of the year. I mean…is there anything cooler in a family than a high school graduate?
My stepson, David Kamlot, is graduating Friday from Seven Rivers Christian School. The other day the school had something called a Senior Walk. All the seniors in cap and gown walked in single file through campus, teachers and students lining the walkways, cheering on their heroes, exchanging high-fives.
Joy permeated through the school community that afternoon. I was thrilled just to be there.
A few days earlier, David had a graduation party that was also just a lot of fun. Someone remarked it was nice to see kids being kids: getting soaked on a waterslide, sitting on the grass chatting, or laughing over yearbook pictures.
Is there anything so pure than a kid being a kid? No pressures, no having to “act” around grownups.
But, man, it’s tough. Academic standards are a lot harder than when most of us were that age, and social pressures today are off the charts.
Plus, this year’s grads had to endure two years of COVID-19, attending classes virtually and again in person.
So, if ever there was a graduation year for celebration, it was this one.
Then came the horror of Robb Elementary School, and we are slapped awake once again about the vulnerability of kids to monsters with guns.
Our reactions vary. Some of us get angry, some sad. Some are indignant. Some go on fiery tirades about gun laws or mental health services. Plenty of rhetoric to go around.
As for me, I was in desperate need Wednesday evening to be among kids, parents and grandparents, annoying brothers and sisters, and educators.
Fortunately, I knew where to find such a collection.
It’s been a while since attending a Citrus High School commencement ceremony but I’ve always enjoyed it. There’s something small town about high school graduation night.
The stadium had an energy and I just breathed it all in. The crowd stood as grads started walking two-by-two down the center aisle. A bank of parents stood, cell phone cameras at the ready, for their son or daughter to walk by.
Every few seconds I heard someone’s name shouted from the stands, a friend or family member spotting a certain graduate.
I grabbed a seat for the ceremony. Emily Shelton sang the national anthem and knocked it out of the park. Principal Laura Lindeman — a CHS alumnus — introduced everybody.
The commencement speeches were uplifting and hopeful. As the grads started to come forward for their diploma, I made my exit. Walking away, I could hear scattered shouts when names were called.
Then I came home to write, where I sit right now wondering where I’m headed. I guess it’s two things:
1. God bless any adult who’s had a positive impact on a kid. Parents, teachers, day care workers, grandparents, counselors, school bus drivers, resource officers and guardians, aides — you get the drift. Those values stay intact as kids evolve into grownups, with kids of their own. And the cycle starts again.
2. God bless these kids in cap and gown, as they celebrate this milestone. We rejoice with them, but only each boy and girl knows what it’s like inside. We pray their next stage is even more fulfilling.
The world’s a mess right now, but I walked away from Citrus High with a spring to my step. Commencement will do that to a person.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.