Commencement is one of those benchmarks in life that is truly bittersweet for parents and graduates alike. It's an end and a beginning all rolled into one.
The Class of 2017 will start families, careers, and continue their education.
As the lights dim and the familiar notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” begin playing the seniors march to the stage. In the audience were proud parents with beaming smiles one minute, then choking back tears the next.
The glowing squares of cellphones float above the heads of the audience. There are intermittent flashes. Some just capturing a brief moment in time. Others filming the entire ceremony on video.
All to be cherished and shared with those who couldn't make it to the ceremony whether it is posted on social media or just a cellphone passed to someone sitting nearby.
There is the invocation, the pledge, salutatorian address, valedictorian address, guest speakers, songs, recognition of awards, career and technological achievements, scholarships, military enlistments, and recognition of parents.
Some of these seniors will stay in Van Buren County. Live here, work here, raise a family here, like new crops digging deep into the soil. Others will leave like baby birds; maybe with short, clumsy flights at first, but then one day flying away.
Like samples on glass slides under the microscope in science class these seniors; young adults, actually, sit under the bright stage lights to be viewed by friends and loved ones. Beyond this day the experiment really begins. They've figured out the formula, it is time to factor in the variables.
Grateful graduates grinning at their friends and family in the audience, some solemn, others dabbing at their eyes, trying not to cry.
There's the selfies, the balloons, the flowers, the cards, and gifts, all part of the commencement celebration, topped off with the traditional tossing of the caps into the air.
The tassel, for many, will now hang from their rearview mirror. Graduate, it says.
The parking lots slowly empty as friends and relatives depart. The balloons deflate, the flowers wither, the cards get put away, and the selfie gets replaced with a current photo.
The tassel gets faded by the sun and one day the threads break, so it gets put elsewhere, a scrapbook, shelf, or drawer perhaps.
While it no longer adorns the tiny rearview mirror, its absence makes the larger windshield and the road ahead, somehow clearer.
For the Class of 2017 and many before, they've spent a dozen years or more 'at school' in one way or another.
Beyond this graduation day are plans.
Big plans, small plans, and the unexpected.