Sunday, June 14, 2015

Gives Me Pause

"Why can't people like that just stay home?" These were the uptight words that floated through my head as I sat in the audience of my son's high school graduation ceremony. Held in the rarefied confines of Oakland's historic Paramount Theater, the evening began in a festive but reasonably dignified fashion. Friends and family were there to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2015. There was Pomp. There was Circumstance. There was plenty of attention to pay to this next generation of thinkers, leaders, and fresh faces to bring the world along into the bloom of this new century. There was extra gravity in the room that night.
That didn't mean that the evening was filled with somber directives for missions and work left undone. There was talk about the future, but it was mostly directed in the vicinity of adventure. Grownups weren't handed the microphone to hand out advice and warnings. The kids stood up and shared their vision of their past and their future. It was refreshing and candid. Some of the ties began to loosen as the ceremony wore on, with speeches building to the valedictorian, who urged his classmates to remember where they were from and where they were going, and always to remember to come back, representing that geography: Oakland.
Oakland is a proud city. A diverse city. A city with problems. A city with solutions. Oakland rises to meet their challenges day after day, and the Class of 2015 showed by their attentive listening and boisterous responses that they were up to it. Oakland hoots. Oakland hollers. Oakland shouts its approval at the top of their lungs. As the evening wore on, the refinement of the beginning gave way to the hoots and hollers. As it should. The graduates each took their moment as they crossed the stage to pause, if only to shake hands and get a photo with the principal. Some of them danced. Some of them twirled. Some of them made a show of how the distance across that stage. They had earned it. There were hugs. There were high fives. And shout outs.
And there was an anarchist. One kid, who came to the ceremony with his bandanna, waited until his name was announced and then pulled it up over the lower half of his face reminding everyone in the theater of the riots that had taken place just outside on the streets in front of the theater. He strode up to his principal, who looked at him with brief shock and then abrupt dismay. The crowd settled at this moment, trying to discern just how real this threat was. There was a pause, and then the authority of the occasion won out, however briefly, the mask came down and the hand came out. As he took his principal's hand, he turned to the camera, with his free hand he pointed a finger at his head as if it were a gun.
Then it was over. The next name was called, and the procession continued. Some of the joy had been knocked down, but it wasn't out. Soon, the anarchist was back in the seat from whence he came, congratulating himself as the rest of his class rose back to the moment of their achievement. The problems evoked by the gesture from that one student wouldn't go away that night. The parents and grandparents in the audience knew that. Anarchy is primarily a young person's pursuit. But that wasn't the youth we were there to celebrate. It was a night of beginnings. Hope. Change. Memories. I suppose we have him to thank for "keeping it real."
But I just couldn't help thinking, "Why can't people like that just stay home?"

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