When I graduated high school, I said “Good riddance” to my school, Good Hill High School. My high school experience wasn’t necessarily bad, but I always felt kind of claustrophobic throughout my public education and by commencement, I had moved on. I was ready to leave my small town behind and see what new perspectives I could experience the world from.
And for the most part, I really did stay away from it. I visited my parents fairly often during my first year of college, but after that, there was very little pull I felt towards my home town, and it quickly became uncomfortable for me to be there anymore at all.
But, you see, I have a little brother. And as a little brother, he’s always messing things up for me. And so he messed this up for me, too.
Yesterday, he graduated high school. And so because of the jerk, I had to make my journey back to Good Hill High School.
The first noteworthy thing is that the whole thing seemed so much smaller than I remembered. Walking up to the front, the fancy entrance felt a lot lower, a lot tighter than when I was in high school. I mean, I never thought Good Hill was a large school by any means–it’s shockingly small, actually–but it was so less grand now from my fresh eyes.
The second thing I noticed was the smell. I don’t know what it is, but there’s some very distinct smell Good Hill has. I don’t know if it’s the mop juice they use, or the underwhelming dedication to education, or some obscure pine tree air freshener scent, but Good Hill has its own very particular smell that hit me immediately.
After that, it was all uncomfortably downhill from there. Since it was graduation, everyone and their mother was there–and their father, and their grandparents, and some cousins and aunts and neighbors, too, maybe. So there were a lot of familiar faces from school events past, but no one familiar enough to warrant a “Hello!” or a noncommittal “How are you?” It was just sort of me, awkwardly averting eye contact so that we could all pretend like we didn’t notice each other and enjoy our ease of anti-sociability.
Of course we had to get there an hour early so we could get good seats, like it was a Future concert or something, so once we scored our preferred seats, we had 50 minutes to kill before more boringness commenced. That’s right–there was pre-boringness, and then the main boringness event. Fortunately my dad was there and he can be almost as restless as I can be so we both agreed to embark on the mostly pointless task of wandering around trying to find my grandparents so we could escort them to the gymnasium, where graduation took place, because nothing helps you move on from high school better than the unwelcoming scent of sweat to drive you away. It’s really a service they provide, forcing you to not miss the place.
After we collected all the old people and adequately arranged ourselves, there was still some time left before the ceremony, so Grandma and I utilized this window of time to have a heart-to-heart (details on this will not be disclosed), and after our heart-to-heart, I went to the bathroom for a fart-to-fart (okay this part isn’t true, but I just wanted to try out the rhyme). Then I dart-to-darted back to the gymnasium just in time to cut off the line of graduates who were entering the gym and find my rightful place among the crowd of Good Hillians by my family.
The band started playing that song (daaaaa da da da daaaaa daaaaa) that always makes you want to cry not because it’s well-played or because it’s a moving song, but just because it’s symbolic and indicates “This is a big moment!!” I get excited for people really easily and I started thinking about all their futures and how wide open the world is if they just start walking and how I’ve learned exponentially more in the past three years than I did the first eighteen years of my life and I got kind of choked up for them all, especially my stinky little brother.
That quickly went away, though, as I soon realized that many of them probably have big dreams and aspirations yet very little motivation or ambition to put in the work required to achieve those dreams. Everyone wants to be great but no one wants to do any work for it. I got a little cynical. Our town is easy to hate but people get too comfortable there and give up on their dreams and learn to tolerate it.
The middle part of graduation is real dry, and involves a lot of name-calling (name-calling that isn’t offensive) and a lot of clapping. When my brother got his name called, I didn’t really plan on it, but I instinctively let out a hearty cheer for him that was clearly audible over the gentle clapping. Yeah, I’m that obnoxious sister.
It was uneventful for the most part, except one part where when a girl was walking up to get her diploma, this whole section of the gymnasium cheered, and as soon as they cheered, she tripped over the step and straight up biffed it. I mean, she didn’t just trip, she really fell. She, like, sprawled out and everything. And then she got right back up, and everyone cheered even more for her, but damn I really admire her. I’m totally the kind of person who would stumble or something awkward and lame and only halfway fall, but she basically face-planted and that takes commitment to go all the way like that when you fall. I’m not saying this to put her down or anything–I mean it, I’m really glad she kept it real up there.
But yeah, I was feeling kind of cynical for everyone there for a second. But by round two of that song, after the whole shebang came to a close (daaaaa da da da daaaaa daaaaa), I was feeling inspired for them all again and thought about how exciting this was for my brother (his big day!!!!) and how he was going to college and how he was done with high school and he’s an adult now and we’re both graduates and our lives are truly beginning now and so I guess if I’m being honest I straight up cried as the graduates were filing out. Our freaking mother didn’t even cry and there I was, wiping away my tears so no one would see and my grandma turns to me and asks, “Are you crying? Do you need a tissue?” and I’m looking at the floor so no one will see my red eyes and insisting, “I’m fine! I’m fine!”
The graduates all paraded out first, and then the rest of us were supposed to follow. I decided to ditch the fam and weave through the crowd to find my brother (I’m a really good crowd-weaver) and as soon as I saw the chump, I seriously ran into him and mauled him with some sort of crazy sister hug. “Holy crap! I’ve never seen you move so fast!” he kindly insulted me, because I really didn’t even get into a sprint before I hugged him but apparently any sort of movement by me above a casual walk is noteworthy.
But then you know how graduation goes afterwards, it’s all pictures-pictures-pictures, which, to be fair, is rightfully warranted, considering no one’s gonna want to put on those ugly robes and caps again in their life so they might as well get all the ceremonial photographs done while they can. I have this theory that I think graduates have to wear such ridiculous garb as a sort of “hazing”– it’s like a final gag to flaunt the hideous attire before you earn your spot in this exclusive club of graduates.
Anyway, he’s a cool graduate now, so he went off with his cool graduate colleagues after graduation and us old folk went back to the ol’ abode because we all had to work the next morning and do all the fun things that old graduates get to do in the Real World.
So, there you have it, my quickly and poorly recapped version of Good Hill graduation. I have to work a lot, actually, so I’m quite tired and burnt out, which is the real secret they should have mentioned in those graduation speeches, that if you have big dreams you have to work hard, and even if you don’t have big dreams you’ll probably still have to work hard, and even if you don’t work hard, life is still hard, but my little brother just graduated so I guess we’ll give him some time to realize that on his own and he can be blissfully ignorant in the meantime, and hopefully get some distance from him and Good Hill so he can smell some new scents and see some bigger entrances and come to realize that even though Good Hill isn’t all that awful, that there’s some other gyms out there he can enjoy sweating in just as much, and more. And that’s the true lesson here, I guess, is that there are always better gymnasiums to sweat in, if you put yourself out there. Goodnight, all.