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Child, dad continue the odyssey

Pasco's Class of 2000 left elementary school last week amid ceremonies that some generations before might have considered a bit overblown considering that we're only talking about moving on to sixth grade.

But we're heavy into milestones these days, and so the hours of watching these girls and boys accepting certificates of accomplishment and posing for snapshots was probably predictable.

It was even gratifying at times, especially when the handicapped pupils rolled their wheelchairs to the front of the room and shot their fists into the air while parents and peers shouted, "All right!"

Since my No. 1 daughter is now 11, I have more than a passing interest in the group of kids that will be the first of the new century to lift that little tassel to the other side of a mortarboard.

The wonderment is how we got this far so fast. I mean, where in the world did those six years go? Yesterday I was standing at a distance, watching a teacher bend over at the waist to console my frightened kindergartener, and now here was that same little girl, standing with her friends, dressed to the nines and looking way too much like an adult.

Somebody slow this world down!

The curse of having a daughter going to middle school is in having a good memory. I remember how I was then, and I know that the focus on the opposite sex is likely to get much more pronounced. Even some of the boys leaving fifth grade last week were making catcalls at the ceremony when girls in the budding stage strolled to pick up their certificates.

I want the innocence to last forever, but then I read in my child's yearbook where her girlfriends note how popular she will be next year with the boys.

As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief."

Life is getting complicated for both of us. She's about to leave a campus where she was a big shot and go to one where older kids will consider her a baby. Older kids cuss and fight.

But I guess that's part of the education process. I am a great believer in public schools. The lessons that children learn there go way beyond academics. They learn how to deal with a vast variety of personalities, just as they will have to deal with them as adults. The hope for now is that my daughter will have enough self-confidence to choose relationships wisely and not be sucked in by what is considered cool or popular for the moment.

I would like to think that having loving parents will be enough to ensure that she follows the positive paths, but I worry because some of my friends who started families earlier tell me that something happens to the brain during a certain period of adolescence, "and there is nothing you can do about it," they say.

Good grief, again.

Oh, well, you have to try. And I'm going into this new stage with optimism.

It helped that I went to the first-ever graduation at River Ridge High School on Friday night.

The 220 purple-robed seniors were truly men and women, and from that standpoint made me realize that although time is flying, my babies still have a ways to go.

I was impressed by the articulation of the graduates who spoke for a class of pioneers. They had left other high schools as sophomores to form the new student body, and for a while were divided into cliques that identified with the likes of Ridgewood, Hudson or Gulf. But now their names were on the roll of the first-ever to graduate from River Ridge, and they were proud.

Susan Dacy, the valedictorian, clearly has a bright future. But as she stood before several hundred admirers, she was most impressive when she talked of her duties at the local McDonald's where she was sweeping the floor last week and a customer said, "You've really found your place in life, haven't you?"

She used that experience not to complain that you can't get respect when you wear a paper hat, but rather to speak with remarkable wisdom about the value of being humble and realizing who you are. She ended her speech with this message to her class: "Seize the day."

What good advice.

Jobs are scarce. Money is tight. College is not for everyone. But there is something of value obtainable in just about every day of life, or at least a goal worth setting sights on. A few thousand young men and women at Pasco's seven high schools demonstrated that Friday night.

Now, the challenge is to keep moving forward _ and to keep learning.

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