Our grandson, David, one of five grandchildren we are blessed to have—the only boy among four girls, his two sisters and two cousins—has graduated high school. Because of the pandemic currently assailing the world, he, like so many others, was deprived of the formal commencement he would otherwise have enjoyed.
And so—undeterred by the Covid-constraints, but mindful of the necessary precautions—fifteen of us gathered recently for a by-invitation-only, less-formal ceremony to honour his achievement. Three generations of family attended—four grandparents, two parents, two pairs of aunts and uncles, and his sisters and cousins.
Oh, and one rambunctious dog!
For Nana and me, he is the second of our grandchildren to graduate, his older cousin having done so last year. But for his paternal grandparents, he is the first. It was a joyous celebration, properly socially-distanced, held outdoors on the grounds of their expansive home on a glorious, sunlit afternoon. The dress was summer-casual, no caps and gowns to be seen, but the sense of occasion was as high as it would have been in the most somber, traditional commencement exercise.
Our families have always prized education and lifelong learning, a value that has, to our immense satisfaction, been assimilated by the youngest among us.
Almost everyone took the opportunity to address the graduate, commending him for his achievement. But it was I who was granted the honour of delivering the more formal remarks, a task I gladly embraced. Given the relaxed setting, I wanted to find a suitable mix of lightness and seriousness, of witticism and import, something that might be enjoyed at the time and remembered long after.
And of course, I did not want to ramble on too long, knowing that once the dog lost interest, so, too, might the rest of my audience.
I began by welcoming the graduate to an exclusive club—
If we trace a straight line to you from Granddad and Grandma, from Nana and me, through your parents, you are the seventh member to join this exclusive club of high school graduates.
There are other high school grads here today, of course, but none of them runs down that same line of succession as you. There are no secret handshakes for this club, no secret passwords, no class ring; but there is one mandatory ritual to which you must adhere, now that you are a member—namely, whenever one of the older members wants a hug, you must stand and deliver.
A few chuckles greeted this opening, along with a smile and nod from our grandson. Hugs have always been popular in our extended family.
After describing and commending him for his scholastic achievements, graduating with high honours, I spoke about his parents—
I want to mention two people who have reason to be prouder than any of us today—your Dad and your Mum. You’re drawing from a pretty amazing genetic pool, as I’m sure you know, and you are blessed to have them as parents.
If I had a magic wand, and if I could wave it over all the children in the world, my wish would be that every one of them could have a father like your Dad and a mother like your Mum.
I dared not look at either of them at this point, for fear of choking up myself, and I managed to continue—
Long before Granddad, Grandma, Nana, and I were grandparents, we were parents. And so, we have a pretty good understanding of how your Dad and Mum feel about you because we have had the same feelings for our own children. For as long as your parents live, you will be their pride and joy because, just as you are blessed, so, too, are you a blessing to them—and to all of us in your extended family.
I went on to spend a few moments talking about that extended family, because I believe it is important for this young man to appreciate his heritage—
David, you bear a very proud name—Whittington. And you carry in equal measure the names of three other proud families—Wigglesworth, Eaton, Burt. You are the sole, male iteration of these four families going forward. For the rest of your life, you will carry all of us within you.
Another reason for including that was to recognize the contributions made by all four families to the person he has become. His four grandparents do not delude ourselves into believing we deserve the credit; that goes rightly to his parents and to the young man himself. But the nurturing of extended family does count for something, after all.
I concluded my remarks by telling the graduate what we, his family members, expect of him as he steps into the next phase of his life—
With that in mind, I have two thoughts to leave you with, and I hope I can speak for all four families. First, we expect you—we expect you—to conduct yourself always with honour—honouring our families, honouring your parents and your sisters, and honouring yourself.
To paraphrase the poet, Gibran, we do not seek to make you like us, for life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday. But if past is prologue, we are confident you will forever justify our faith in you.
Fusce honorem omnium! Choose honour above all!
By this time, my eyes were more than moist and my throat was closing up with emotion, but I managed to choke out my final words—
Second, perhaps most importantly, we want you to know this, to remember this—wherever you go, whatever paths you choose to follow, whatever you do with your life, if ever there comes a time when you need help or support: All of us, w’ve got your back. We’ve got your back!
We love you, David! Congratulations!
A ripple of applause and an echoing chorus of congratulations washed over us as we touched elbows—no hug, unfortunately, during this pandemic period. The noise woke the dog—who, apparently, had been less-than-inspired by my address—and his rollicking antics quickly dissolved the formality of the moment into the shambolic ambiance that is more typical of our family gatherings.
And he got all the hugs!
It has been almost sixty years since my own high school graduation, and I confess I have no memory of the commencement ceremony I must have attended. But I harbour the hope that our grandson will long remember his, not for my speech, but for the love his family has for him, the love that brought us all together to honour him.