A Range of Ages and Stages Prepare for Graduation

by Melissa Begley

If you are anything like myself, the days pass much the way they do in a movie montage:  each day falls off the calendar at a rate two to four seconds and another month is complete.  There are a number of times each year when you step back and take stock of where you are in life.  It could be New Years’ Eve, or your birthday, or your child’s birthday, or an anniversary.  It could also be the Spring season where in most years other than 2018, there is new life surrounding you.  Each morning, you sit up groggily in bed as the sun wakes you up and you try to place the confusing sound outside which is simply birds chirping.  The chipmunks are underfoot, and you have to be conscious of not squishing one.  You are careful at twilight when you drag the garbage to the curb because the bears have awakened from their torpid sleep will scare me silly every time.

Plus the Graduations.

I remember my own vividly.  Having attended an all girls Catholic high school, there was not much leniency in how we expressed ourselves EVER, but certainly not on that day filled with such pomp and circumstance.  As they solemnly called my name and I walked across the stage, in my white heels, robe, and cap, I remember thinking, “Is this it?  Shouldn’t I feel more proud?  Is this even a big deal?”  Having watched innumerable John Hughes movies, I expected AT LEAST for someone to hold up a boom box or for some sort of earth shattering impromptu speech to explode from within one of my peers.

Even further back in time, I can recall completing fifth grade.  I was super pumped to show off my Oglive home perm, some super cool tiny black heels and a mustard yellow dress with a drop waist and black roses.  My yearbook photo boasted to all who read it that my ambition was to become a Doctor and a a Dancer.

Because these milestones are so built up, I thought it might be interesting to grab a group of grads from different age groups and see what they thought about their graduations from their respective schools.    What memories do they cherish?  Where do they hope to go in the future?What do they hope to accomplish?  I asked each student to share some thoughts on graduation, and then to predict the future.  Each student was asked to look five, ten, and fifteen years down the road.  Here is what they came up with:

The youngest of our graduates is the tow-headed Benjamin Smitreski.  Ben will graduate from the STARS program at Redeemer Christian School in Succasunna.  He was taught by Miss Charleen Gurnari and Miss Kathleen Callaghan.  Their patience and hard work will send Ben to school armed with the knowledge of how to read and do two digit addition problems.  Ben has been practicing  the eleven songs he will sing at graduation, but when I ask Master Ben what graduation means to him, he says, “Being done with a school and going into the next year in another school.”  Ben is excited to go to Chester M. Stephens next year because “I get to be with my brothers.”

When we jump ahead five years, Ben would be in in fourth grade. He predicts that he will be learning what (Brother) Jack does now and looks forward to playing certain games in gym.   He hopes to have Ms. Stokley because “you get to make a pillow.”   In ten years, Ben will be fifteen and a freshman in high school  and when asked about what he will be learning in Math he says, “Slope……What is slope?”  For fun, he wants to still be playing soccer, lacrosse and basketball.   Fifteen years down the line, at age twenty and his second year of college, “I’ll have two years left of school.  I will be studying stuff so that I can be a dentist.” He hopes to live at home while he goes to college.  He wants to be a dentist because he gets “to sell and work.”  What does he sell, you might ask?  Toys in a chest;  The small tokens you get if you behave at the dentist are the trinkets he has interpreted as the salesman portion of the job.  What advice does Ben have for someone entering their final year of Pre-k?  “Don’t be bad.  When you graduate, don’t hang on a banister.”

Solid advice.

I speak next with an almost sixth grader.  Angelina Ferrante sits down next to me on the curb, removes her bike helmet, and is happy to share her thoughts about graduating from fifth grade.  She recalls fondly various special events from her years at CMS.  “The field trips.  The parties….The Fun Stuff,” she giggles comfortably as she shares some of her best memories from CMS.  When questioned about what she likes to do for fun in school she says, “We like to learn a lot!”  Out of school, fun often comes from “sports: soccer, lacrosse, basketball.”  It was tough for her to choose her best teachers, but when pressured, she conceded that it had to be  Mrs. Feibel and Ms. Stokley.  Mrs. Feibel  because “she’s strict, but still teaches us a lot. Ms. Stokley because she’s funny and her Stokley stories.”

Angelina then took a look in my crystal ball to think about where she would be in the future.  We first went five years down the line, which would put Lina into her sophomore year of high school.  Her immediate response really makes me happy.  “Probably Math Clubs,” and she laughs easily again.  “Studying a lot.  Getting ready to think about driving.   Probably sports and stuff too.”  At the ten year mark, Angelina would be a junior in college.  “I will probably live in a house and be studying the ocean so I can be a dolphin trainer.  I’ll probably be looking for a good town to live in.”  Finally we jump to age twenty-six which is fifteen years in the future.  “I want to live here in Mount Olive.  Maybe across town.”  She’s not sure if she will be married or not, and plans to take it as it comes.  Her words of wisdom for incoming fifth graders are simply, “Believe in Yourself.”

Our third graduate is Gabby Helder.  When asked to share her feelings about leaving middle school and going to high school, Gabby gives a a textbook quote from an eighth grade student:  “I’m kind of excited I guess.”  She will miss her Band teacher. Mrs. McQueeny  in particular, and looks forward to marching band in high school.  Mrs. McQueeny was always supportive of whatever Gabby had going on throughout her years at the middle school.

In five years, Gabby will be finished with high school, and hopes to begin studying music as a career in college.  Before she goes to college, she wants to visit  Okunoshima, Japan and/or Africa.    She wants to have a job that brings her music and instruments to these places. She plans to accomplish this goal by learning more than just the clarinet which is what she plays now.  In ten years, she will be out of college and  and doing something in the field of music for a career.  She hopes also so be in a solid relationship.  Fifteen years in the future, Gabby hopes to be married with a dog and a hairless cat.  She also hopes to be married, but is not sure yet of the age.  She will get married when she meets the right person.

Gabby who is one of four daughters in her family says, “She wants to have five kids because having four is just so basic.”  She wants to have some children biologically, and she wants to adopt some because she had an adopted friend and thought it was nice.

My last interview is with Andrew Gault.  Andrew is almost eighteen and about to graduate from Mount Olive High School.  This is a demographic that doesn’t get much respect from old fogies like myself these days.  However, Andrew meets me to talk and does not bring his phone, is on time, and dresses appropriately.  I catch him before he runs to Shop Rite which is where he works about four days a week for about twenty-five hours.  He speaks confidently, yet respectfully, and my conversation with Andrew leaves me in happy tears because of his outlook on life and insight into his own.

“Graduation means I am finishing the child to young adult part or my life and moving on to the real world.  After graduation, I’m going to Rutgers University Business School in New Brunswick.”    His greatest memories from all his years in Mount Olive are just

“hanging out with friends on a random Friday.”  Andrew seems like a find your own fun type of guy.  I ask him for some advice for the younger folks who may be looking ahead to their senior year of high school.   He says, “Stay focused.  Have fun.  You don’t have to take it too seriously, but work hard and get it done.  Look forward to it.  Cherish what is going on now.  Don’t look so far into the future  that you miss what’s happening now.”

Wow.  That’s verbatim.  This kid is only seventeen.

When Andrew looks five years down the road, he will be in his Freshman year of Life.    He hopes to still be living at home to save money.  “That’s what my mom did.  I’m hoping to get a job in the city, get my foot in the door, and start saving money to buy a house.”  This answer is just so refreshing to me.  It seems that so many young folks want to skip all that.   They think that because a few overly successful people like Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates did not follow the traditional path, they can easily do that same.  Andrew plans to get ahead by working hard.  That shouldn’t be so out of the ordinary to hear,  but it is.

In looking ten years down the line, Andrew will be twenty-eight.  He hopes to have his own house.  He would like to stay in state and the furthest he would go to live would be New York or Pennsylvania.  “I want to be close to my family.   At work, I hope to be climbing the corporate ladder and working my way up.”  Finally, I ask Andrew to look ahead fifteen years.  He hopes to have moved up at least twice within the company and to have some sort of big job in marketing or business management.  He hopes to have a family of his own and to have at least two kids, but no more than three.

As my final interview winds down, I can’t help but ask where his thoughtful answers come from.  Why doesn’t he want to get far away from his parents?  Why doesn’t he want to make a million dollars the first year out of school?  He attributes his beliefs to “the way I was raised.  My mom always pushed me hard with grades and had an emphasis on family.  The four of us are close.”  As far as moving away, I ask why he doesn’t want to go far. “I just don’t want to….my mom would be upset, but it’s more that I  don’t want to go far.”

That’s an amazing young man.

So where did you want to be when you were graduating from elementary school, or middle school, or high school?  What things were so important then that mean nothing now?  The subjects of these interviews  advise others to to reach for the stars and to believe in themselves,  and to enjoy the ride, but is it ever too late to stop doing that?  I don’t think so.  I think that once we stop improving ourselves, we lose out on a large part of life.   So let Spring and the Season of Commencement be YOUR  new beginning to embark on that challenge that you have been thinking about for so long.  What’s holding you back?  Take that first step towards a new you.  If it helps, I’ll let you borrow my mustard yellow drop waist dress.  Maybe the cool heels too.


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