May 27, 2019
We got a flight out of Reagan National on Monday to Greenville, S.C., to attend a unique event—unique to us, anyway: our grandson’s graduation from pre-school. Pre-school graduations may be commonplace these days, but we never heard of them. Not to date myself, but it’s only been a few years since I heard of pre-school. I started school with all-day kindergarten. At the end of that year, my classmates and I scattered.
We didn’t just go for the graduation. It was high time for us to visit the kids, our daughter Marie, son-in-law Mike, and the two boys, Noah (5) the graduate, and the little guy, Patrick (2.5). Our oldest daughter, Laura, also is staying with them for a while. The timing worked, too: the week before Memorial Day, when other things seem to slow down. Slow down, I mean, to our pace. We’ve been more or less holed up at home sorting things out for the future, which will start with a PET scan of my chest in two weeks.
Meanwhile I’m taking my pills and trying to regain some fitness, maybe looking to build some irony into the result. Seeing the kids before we get the finding, when we can still guess and joke about it, seemed like a good idea.
Greenville (“Upstate”) is one of today’s hot Sunbelt places: young people and retirees are heading there, construction cranes are transforming the skyline, restaurants, hotels, and churches are booming, the passing interstate (I-85) is getting new lanes. Raleigh-Durham, Jacksonville, Nashville, Austin were in the same place 30 years ago. There’s the traffic and the construction dust, farmland plowed up for new subdivisions of single-family homes, condos, and apartments. Yet the town gets near-unanimous rave reviews both from the natives and newcomers.
The city has economic muscle, with mega-operations of Michelin, Fluor, GE Power, and BMW’s massive plant next door in Spartanburg. The boom will go on, they say.
An abiding feature of these places is families, young families with young kids. Kids everywhere, meaning in daycare, while parents work, doing their part for the local economic miracle. Daycare raised to a science, a caring science. For the past two years Noah met with 20 classmates at a small church daycare, four days a week, four hours a day, for creative adventures: crafts, reading, playacting, songs, field trips, the works. It’s what five-year-olds do today.
So what do you expect at a daycare commencement? Happy families, check. Pledge of allegiance, check. Program, check. Procession, check. Diplomas, check. Photos, posed and casual, check and check. Caps and gowns, check. Caps and gowns? For kids not yet in elementary school? For sure, blue and gold, tassels hung left, then right. You didn’t have that when you were five?
The kids filed up the church’s center aisle one by one, parents crowding up to get that dramatic photo. I tried, but couldn’t pick out Noah with his cap pulled down, to me the boys all looked alike. They assembled on the altar and belted out some songs. The director called each child up for his or her diploma, adding a special award for each: best reader, best explorer, best smiler, and so on. We were thrilled for Noah, who won “super scientist.” Wow. Next stop, Stanford.
The speaker was the program director, a pleasant lady who cried a little. She didn’t say, “Graduation is like a ship going out to sea,” nor “be true to yourselves,” nor “do what you love.” She kept it nice, thanked the parents, her faculty (faculty?), and the graduates.
We applauded the graduates as they accepted their certificates and listened to the director’s loving summation of their individual performances through the term, another opportunity for photos. That set the stage for the show-biz-caliber slide show, complete with pop-music soundtrack that showcased smiles and accomplishments. Each student received a personal gift.
The wrap-up reception starred a generous buffet built around an enormous sheet cake. The kids pulled off the caps and gowns, which they got to keep, underneath they all were in their everyday playclothes, shorts and teeshirts. I almost expected suits and long dresses.
We met the gracious and friendly staff, all smiles of relief (my guess) that they pulled off this production. I wondered about the planning, the scripting, the ideas considered, the after-hours meetings about getting this right.
It met parents’ and guests’ expectations. It reaffirmed a sense of simple family connection amidst the frenetic, go-go business, get-the-job-done pace in this corner of this reddest of red states. The kids, once they chucked the commencement robes, were kids again, playing, laughing, cutting up, grabbing chicken nuggets, cake, and cookies. They we all were out of there, on to family celebrations of this modern education milestone, designed, it seemed, to brand the experience in the students’ memories until they’re attending their own grandkids’ daycare commencements.
So I wondered: how does first grade top this? What will these young scholars expect when they matriculate from middle school? Then high school, never mind college. Presumably, having turned five, they get the idea—commencement can be fun. Let’s hope what comes afterward for all of them, years from now, here in Greenville or elsewhere, will be worth the party.