Monday, December 18, 2017
Human Interest

One last graduate — then an empty nest

Commencement weekend is here for Pasco County high school seniors, and so comes time for a little unbridled anticipation for our soon-to-be graduate. These past weeks have been unfolding at a snail's pace for the youngest, a blessedly self-motivated, later-life child who's raring to get on with it.

Even so, her elders are once again wrestling with the notion that once you've reached a certain age, time flies incredibly fast.

"It seems like just yesterday" is the oft-repeated cliche being bandied about these days — particularly after I came across a newborn's hospital bracelet dated September 1995 while digging through a box of mementos that also included a chicken scratch of a note addressed to the Easter Bunny and a couple of old, faded concert ticket stubs.

We had attended our last Grateful Dead concert in the spring of 1995 and were perusing new cribs when the realization hit that I would be a 5-year card-holding member of AARP and my husband would be closing in on the ripe age of 60 when the baby on board finally got around to graduating from high school.

Whoosh.

Now we are here — back to the future.

I've written the last absence excuse note, attended the last parent-teacher conference, packed the last school lunch. I can't help but feel a little misty-eyed over the passing of a long-held morning tradition that had me occasionally slipping in notes of encouragement along with tuna sandwiches and the like.

On Saturday, we will be in the audience, cameras in hand, as the baby of the family marches to Pomp and Circumstance at the USF Sun Dome. She is among an anticipated 4,377 seniors who will receive their diplomas this weekend from Pasco County's 14 high schools.

She will be the third of our brood to make it through Pasco public schools. And while her parents have had a little something to do with that, so did a lot of others.

You don't get from there to here without some pushing, pulling and inspiring.

There has been plenty of that.

While there is not enough space here to name them all, there are a handful of standouts — the kindergarten teacher who patiently and discreetly dealt with our reluctant napper who was all too willing to share the family's private business; the fourth-grade teacher who miraculously pulled up FCAT math scores for the bulk of her students who had been borderline-failing in their third-grade year. There was the middle school drama and leadership teacher who lit a spark by fostering talent, along with a strong sense of community responsibility. And the AP economics high school teacher who went the extra mile to keep his students engaged, even dressing in a silly farmer's get-up on one occasion while embarking on an eye-glazing topic.

To be sure, they all set the bar pretty high. But there were plenty of worthy educators who came in between. Some great. Some good. Others not so much. But even those, you discover, end up bestowing valuable life lessons.

The real world is awash with mediocre or worse, and sometimes you have to learn how to plow through or veer your way around that.

Our parental tenure through the school system included such things as an ill-fated concept called "whole language" that had me dogging the eldest for numerous rewrites before allowing him to pass in his school papers and the monopolization of the classroom curriculum for the younger two with a "do or die" kind of focus on FCAT scores that we countered with the advice to simply not worry about the test.

On occasion, we felt the need to fill gaps, to go for outside help and enrichment. We employed private tutors when the middle child couldn't grasp math. We ponied up for a private choral program in another county for the youngest when the powers-that-be killed the chorus class at her high school.

Looking back, collectively I think we built a strong foundation.

Thank you.

Saturday's walk marks the end of an era and some sad thoughts of a quieter, empty nest for us. But it is also the start of something new and exciting, especially for the new graduate, who intends to follow her siblings in the pursuit of higher education.

Ready or not, there she goes.

Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]

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