I know politically charged op-eds generate more letters to the editor and comments online. One of my colleagues prefers them because they “stir the pot.” But every once in a while, I’d like to beg your indulgence for something a little different. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all.
Four years and 97 columns ago, this father brought forth on these pages an article about dropping his son off at college. (“Old Give Way to Young, But Not Without Fears,” Aug. 24 2006). Some of you, I like to think, might have read it. Just a few days ago, that same son graduated. How exactly did that happen?
Shrugging off the effects of a redeye to JFK, I rent a car and take a heavily GPS-assisted route to the Hudson Valley. Parking near the edge of campus, I walk through the ivy-covered arch toward my son’s dorm. Someone is waving at me in a frantic sign of recognition, but I have no idea who he is. It certainly can’t be my son. This person strolling confidently toward me is no boy, but a young man, taller and more self-assured than I remember. We embrace, and talk about the weekend ahead.
I’m struck by how technologically intensive this graduation weekend is, so different from mine 28 years ago. Between the GPS in the rental car, the constant texting between family members as we coordinate our respective rendezvous, the Facebook uploads and the status updates, I wonder if it’s still legal to graduate without using the Internet. My son won an award, and I had video of the presentation uploaded from my iPhone to YouTube in five minutes. Was there life before the Internet? There must have been, but I can’t remember what it was like. I’ll bet it was horrible.
The ceremony is the next day, and we show up an hour early to get good seats. The outdoor amphitheater is really quite stunning and the weather cooperates as well. Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe on “Friends”) is an alumna of the college, and the commencement speaker. Unlike many I’ve heard, she’s quite good, although you’d expect no less from someone who makes her living as a performer. Her speech was funny, honest, name dropping in a self-deprecating way, and full of good follow-your-dreams advice. I guess she ought to know. She graduated as a bio major, who only decided to go into acting later in life. It took her eight years of struggle to hit it big.
But boy, did she hit it big. Wikipedia says she made $1 million each episode in the last two seasons of “Friends.” No wonder she’s on the Board of Trustees. She graduated college more or less when I did. How come I’m not a millionaire? Stop thinking about that, there will always be people more “successful” than you are. Stupid mid-life thoughts. Just enjoy the moment. Be here now, to honor your son.
Four years is nothing in the life of a man in mid-life, but a lot can happen in the life of a youth. (If I’m in mid-life, where is my son? Quarter-life?) You can see the election of a new president, the first one in which you voted. You can begin your first serious relationship. You can get your first taste of intellectual adventure and discovery. You can land your dream job. You can take your first step on the road to the stars. Your first relationship can end, and you can grow from it. Your parents’ marriage can end. You can still love them both.
Through it all, time moves inexorably on. As a physics major, my son knows that. We’ve had some interesting discussions about why time only flows one way. Doubtless we’ll have more.
But they’ll be fewer and further between as my son moves toward the stages of life I have only recently left behind. He will grow older, go to graduate school, start a career, perhaps marry and have a family of his own. He’ll pay his debt forward, just as I paid mine to him and my father paid his to me.
This is as it should be.