We stat in a crowded arena in downtown Jacksonville waiting for the students to march to rows of chairs on the floor. The air was mixed with jubilation and boredom, and then the graduating seniors marched in two at a time. There was my daughter, almost a woman now, waving and grinning. There were songs and speeches from educators who exhorted these seventeen and eighteen year old kids to follow their dreams and lead worthy lives.
Then came the speeches from the graduates. The class president gave a plucky speech and took a selfie at the end and everyone clapped. There were words from the valedictorian, the class president, the class historian, and athletes. The speeches were heartfelt, and I could tell the youngsters put a good deal of time and effort preparing them. They were earnest, hopeful, and full of the hubris of youth.
Each speech began in similar fashion, and the young grads all used a common phrase: “It seems like just yesterday…” They followed this expression up in varying ways. “…we were scared freshmen,” or “we were lost on our first day of school.”
I’m a somewhat jaded middle-aged man, and the first time one of the kids said “it seems like just yesterday,” I said to my wife, “because it was.” She gave me a look that said shut up.
I chuckled. The decades since I graduated from high school seem short to me now. I still recall the smell of the gym where I spent so much of my time in high school playing basketball, and I can hear the squeak of sneakers on the floor, feel the leather of the rock as I sank a free throw to win a game. It seems like yesterday, and it’s been almost thirty years.
I sat in the stands and listened to the speeches and watched the kids throw their caps into the air after turning the tassels. My mother, sitting next to me, smiling and clapping along with my in-laws, the three of them senior citizens on the near side of seventy. I’m sure that to them, it seemed like just yesterday they were my age, watching their own kids graduate.
“You have no idea how fast it goes,” my father in law said at dinner afterwards. “Cause tomorrow is going to be here before you know it.”
This week I got on the floor and played trains with my five year old for hours. I ran around the house playing army with my nine-year old, blasting away at invading forces with plastic machine guns and helmets.
I enjoyed every second of it, because I know only too soon, I’ll be saying, “it seems like only yesterday.”