Today as we celebrate commencement, we also consider people of all ages, old and young, generation by generation. What we share, what we pass along to each other. The steps we take, the dances we dance.
I love to watch couples ballroom dance. Usually they are older than me by a few decades, one generation or more. I watch their grace and dignity, assurance of movement and rhythm, as they spin in stately time around a small space to almost any music at all. I envy it. I never learned it. I’m always awkward and out-of-synch (or at least that’s how it feels).
Of course, some younger people have this ballroom skill, but not so many, and definitely not Chris and I, though years ago we took some lessons and chuckled through them. It’s a different sort of dance than my daughter Sarah and her friends have learned. She dances in occasional mosh pits, and plenty of times while moving to punk, rap and pop. Sarah has also learned such genres as jazz/hip-hop, ballet, and modern. Even some aerial dance on ropes and slings. Sarah and her dance school peers can almost fly.
We all know such different ways to move upon the earth. To dance. To step. To hold and connect with each other. Some solo. Or in couples. Or in groups. In circles and squares, in patterns and wheels. Some with poise and confidence. Balance and lightness. Others like me, enthusiastically, without rhythm or skill. Some almost standing still.
This morning, during a celebration of graduates and seniors at church, we reflected on the heritage of leadership from church members who have belonged and participated for 50, 60 and 70 years. Then we acknowledged our young generation of new leaders who graduate high school today, and will embark on many paths.
And because I’d discovered and contemplated the quotation at the end of this posting, and written it into my daughter’s graduation gift, it made me think of the different ways we dance. Different generations. Different cultures.
It’s something we share as a form of celebration, and yet it has transformed from age to age.And we all have our own style of doing it.
Later this afternoon, friends and families gather in a hot and sweaty gym that holds tight to the memory of students’ exertion, skill, discipline, anxiety, determination, loss and triumph. It keeps us company as pungent layers of old perspiration and well-used sneaker scents. It sighs beneath our rustling and shifting as the past echo of their shouts, sobs, gasps, exhalations, and cheers.
Outside it’s raining. Pelting and slashing sideways, cold and blustery. Yet as we arrived, the birds sang from the shelter of green foliage. Above the ponderous weight of clouds rolls a sun that will return. There is promise in both the rain, and in its passing.
Indoors we sit fanning ourselves. For hours. More honors and awards are presented. The chorus sings, including Sarah’s sweet true voice, in one final act of unity.
We listen to thoughtful words from specific members of their class, with visions about what has brought the class of 2012 to this moment, what is happening today, and all the opportunities awaiting them tomorrow. We hear speeches by teachers, coaches and mentors who have guided and challenged these students, held them accountable and given them second chances.
Afterward, it’s chaos. Robes and gowns everywhere. Photos. Grins. Crazy poses. Group hugs. Different clusters of people congregating.
Leaping. Jumping. Caps and tassels in the air. A kind of nervous impromptu dancing, don’t you think?
Eventually families scatter to their separate plans. Some students leave alone. Most are surrounded by loved ones. Maybe they congregate again at parties. Or dine privately, sharing words and memories. Retreat to their own rituals surrounding this journey. Go home and simply rest, because plans aren’t yet made, and it’s all a blur of possibility. Or simply move on to the next part of the adventure.
At the start of the day, we paid homage to our elders. The ones who paved the way for everyone celebrating in the gym today. Those who rocked and turned in the measured steps of foxtrot and waltz, or rollicked to the jitterbug or the twist. Who trod ground from schoolyards to battlefields, beaches to graveyards. Who walked the floors of courtrooms, classrooms, aisles, hallways, offices, kitchens and so many other spaces, taking the steps that brought us to this moment.
For a little while, we paused and recognized the elders who nurtured and taught us. Who handed down the legacy that is now placed into our care, and our childrens’ keeping. Who have plenty more to say and do, though they’re willing to share the responsibilities and pleasures of what comes next. In the church sanctuary, we offered them a standing ovation … so slight a commotion in return for the decades of work and inspiration they have already provided.
And this afternoon, we laud our senior high students. We watch them promenade, sit and stand as a class, then walk up (or skip or boogie), summoned by name, to claim diplomas. We give them flowers and philosophical books, blank journals and bubbles, gift certificates and, yes, new flip flops in which to take a few carefree next steps. We bundle up meaningful contritutions such as words to live by, or simply offer love measured in hugs, tears and willingness to let them soar.
We know that regardless of what we give them today, they contain their most important resources inside themselves. We wish our graduates the joyful, healthy and generous use of these blessings … and all those gifts they already carry within.
We hope they hear the music of life, and move to its sacred steps. Because finally, we challenge our children to translate a few words of Latin. To learn one new thing, and then carry this hope imprinted in their hearts. “Nunc Pede Libero Pulsanda Tellus!”
Ssshhhh, I’ll pass along its meaning to you. This is a partial quote from Horace, and in paraphrase, it means, “Now is the time to dance footloose upon the earth.”