Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas is literally more than a thousand miles away from South Minneapolis; figuratively it’s worlds away as well. And so when I flew down several weeks ago for my 21-year-old son’s graduation from Air Force Basic Training I expected that everything about the military ritual would feel alien to me. And it did.
And it didn’t.
In the past 35 years, I’ve been a part of my fair share of graduations and mostly I groan about going to them. I just don’t enjoy ceremony and ritual very much but the two days of events at Lackland were a masterful example of how powerful and important ceremonies can be for the young people who have completed an important passage and for those who support and care about them.
My son’s graduation functions were spread over two days and began each morning in the 7 o’clock hour, a not-so-subtle reminder that the 500-plus trainees had been rising daily at 4:30 a.m. for eight weeks. They ran and marched and stood in precision formation for hours. I would have guessed that my reaction would have been dismay at the exercises but instead I felt I was witnessing a demonstration of the physical transformation of hundreds of vaguely-guided teenagers into a single unit of well trained, physically fit young people who knew what they were doing and the importance of their part in a collective effort.
The ceremonies were steeped in history and procedure that were explained to us as they happened before our eyes. There was a very strong sense of being a part of long-standing tradition and for the young airmen, a sense of having, and taking, their place in the bigger scheme of things — a place that’s valued by our society. I could honor and appreciate it all even though politically my beliefs about the military and their mission are about as contrary to theirs as one could get.
As graduation season begins for friends, relatives and neighbors here at home I feel I have a “lesson learned” from the Air Force to share about the ceremonies and traditions that honor the accomplishments of the graduate: Give the graduate and the graduation events plenty intentional time and meaningful attention.
Young people, by nature, are in a race to move on to the next thing and culturally the pace for the rest of us isn’t much better but it’s our responsibility and our gift to them, however “boring and tedious” it may seem, to make these ceremonies memorable and significant because they do represent both important effort and accomplishment and the launching of that young person onto new and greater things.
I’m especially proud of my son and I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to be a part of a ceremony that represented his moving successfully to a new phase of his life.
Terre Thomas is a self-proclaimed fairy godmother. She has an online gift shop, FairyGodmotherOnline.com and holds Best of Fairy Godmother weekends at Sacred Rearrangements once a month. She and her family live in the Lyndale neighborhood. She can be reached at [email protected]