The cap-and-gowned kid in the wheelchair caught my eye as he cruised the campus in the moments before his high school graduation ceremony was set to begin. I approached him, reporter's notebook in hand, figuring I might get a colorful quote. I imagined he'd say something typical about "being on the verge" and how he was feeling "sad and excited all at once."
"I'm just glad it's over," he said with a scowl, before adding something "colorful" about wanting to get out of there ASAP.
I was taken aback by his candor, but appreciated it nonetheless. "I know exactly what you mean," I told him, as the band tuned up for the familiar Pomp and Circumstance march.
And then he was gone.
Five years have passed since I wrote that graduation story, but come this time of year, I think about that kid and the others who share his sentiments. Despite the flowery phrases being bantered about in the days of graduation, high school can be a hurtful, lonesome place for those who don't merit a coveted spot in the social hierarchy.
In recent days I have listened to snippets of speeches from some of our country's best and brightest and rich and famous, who have been trotted out to share their "carpe diem/seize the day" kind of thoughts with the up-and-coming.
There's Oprah at Duke: "You really haven't completed that circle of success unless you have helped someone else to move forward."
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking to New York University graduates at Yankee Stadium: "This is your moment. You have made it to the big leagues and you are up to bat."
Me at home, talking to the latest Miller set to graduate this past weekend.
"Believe me, you don't want to peak in high school."
Okay, I'm not among the best and brightest or the rich and famous, and I readily admit that quote is not my own — rather a mantra of sorts that was offered up by someone older and wiser when I was 17 and life was looking particularly grim in my high school-hating world.
Those words helped. Back then and even now.
I have recited that mantra to my children who, at one time or another, needed a nudging out of some rather painful adolescent angst.
My own high school-hating stance has softened over the years as I've come to recognize the pockets of comfort I found there — particularly in the classroom of a favored English teacher who helped guide me down a writer's path.
So maybe it really wasn't all that bad.
In the words of 1970s singer and songwriter Janis Ian, "It isn't all it seems at 17."
I learned that a few years ago after meeting up with an old acquaintance who used to run with the popular crowd. She shared updates on those high school superlatives, some of whom never made the grade after graduation. And, as it turns out, she too had experienced her own feelings of inadequacy.
Neither one of us, we agreed, would ever want to go back. Not in a million years. Life for us had definitely gotten better. So my advice for this year's graduates — the ones who are feeling "just glad it's over" — is to take heart. These have not been the best years of your life. Celebrate that, along with that diploma, because for you, the best is yet to come.
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869-6251.