I cover graduations - lots of them - for our local newspaper. It keeps the staff writers from having to spend their time on them, and it fills up my BlogHer fund, so it is a win-win.
My modus operandi is simple. I find the grads, talk to them as they wait to march, speak to instructors or the principal, then go out and talk to parents and family members. Get a quote or two from a speech and bang, I'm in and out in less than an hour.
The other night I was interviewing friends and family and started talking to a 20-year-old guy who was there to see his girlfriend graduate. It only took me about 30 seconds to realize I was talking to the wrong person.
First of all, he would only talk about himself. Any question I asked got turned around to be about him. Sometimes he would completely ignore the fact that I had asked about his girlfriend and answer as if I was wondering what HIS plans for the future were.
Second, I started to notice that he had that fumey smell of someone who is a serious alcoholic. Not an "I just had a drink at 5 p.m." smell but the smell of massive amounts of alcohol wafting up from his pores.
I wanted to run up on stage and grab his girlfriend by the shoulders and tell her to get out. To run while she still could, before the unplanned baby, the wrecked cars, the lies, the getting kicked out of another apartment, the crappy jobs, the fights, the bail bondsman.
But I was only there to cover the graduation, so I listened politely as long as I could stand, thanked the man, and then moved on.
My alma mater is a large school, over 2000 students, and a bit of a pain to cover, but I always go back to cover "my" graduation. I found a great family to talk to, huge, with grandmas and grandpas and kids, all overseen by the loveliest woman.
She was the mother of the grad and just had this amazing powerful glow about her. She was herding this big family around with a kind of graceful joy. Even in the face of finding seating for all these people with their wheelchairs and walkers, she seemed like she still could focus on the happiness of the occasion.
She got pulled away from me in the crowd before I was done talking to her, but I wanted to get her name. She told me and I gaped a bit. I knew who she was.
"Are you a rabbi?" I asked.
She said "Why yes! How did you know?"
I had interviewed her father-in-law five years before about an outdoor science program he founded for school children.
He spoke so lovingly about his daughter-in-law that I never forgot what he said. He felt like she was such a great gift in his life that he refused to call her "daughter-in-law" but always said "daughter-in-love."
That woman was the same woman at the graduation. In fact, the father-in-law was one of the family members she was shepherding around - I just didn't recognize him.
I had really thought about that conversation dozens of times. I didn't remember the man's name, or much else about that article, but I remembered the love that was in his voice. That is what endured, and what endures above all.