Milestone: Fifth Grade Graduation

photo of four girls wearing school uniform doing hand signs
Photo by 周 康 on

For the last day of the school year, today did not seem any different from the three months preceding this. When the school decided to close on March 13th, there were no goodbyes, no last day pictures, no walkouts to cheering children, no teary-eyed parents waiting in the wings to ferry their children to douse them with water or get them treats.

Over the past few weeks, there were rumbles of parental angst at the children missing milestones. Seniors, eighth-graders, fifth graders, kindergarteners, they all missed a rite of passage. I shrugged it off never having been part of any graduation ceremonies despite two master’s degrees.

As we counted down to today, I have been assailed by memories of my twins, clean haircuts, just a wee bit over three feet clambering aboard the school bus for the first-ever time. The images have been coming in waves. Laddu and I at the bus stop waiting with Ammu and Pattu and then walking home to glorious nothingness. The regular meetings with teachers every year, smiling at faces now familiar with the passage of time. The old hallways, the unicorn art, the ramshackle building with its outdated pods, the perineal shortage of parking at events, the large auditorium that served the school for everything from back to school night, the variety show and, spring and fall concerts.

Unicorn Proud. Narwhal Bound.

We are in this together.

We will miss you.

Pattu designed word art in the shape of graduation caps. I printed them out and the kids posed for me even as they rolled their eyes. As we counted down to the evening graduation car parade, the nostalgia and melancholy set in. We sat in the car, a family of five after many, many weeks. I had masks on the ready. My phone was charged and I filmed and clicked pictures all the way to school.

As we drove through neighborhoods, families stood on their yards, clapping, waving, and cheering our kids. We rolled down the windows, we opened up the sunroof and slowed down enough for both children to stand up and wave. As we neared the school, the chorus of honks was an orchestra in itself. The school building, now in ruins had me choke back tears. Parents stood on either side.  A friend filmed the parade as a keepsake. We turned the corner and the cars huddled before heading back home.

The whole event was less than 20 minutes. Twenty precious minutes that served to give back to my girls the marking of a milestone, a rite of passage as they enter middle school, prepubescence, and a rigorous academic year ahead. The school colored balloons, the unicorn mascot, the streamers from the cars, the cars ahead and behind us spray-painted with congratulatory messages all seemed to drive the poignancy home.

When they return to school this fall, in person or online, the world around them will have changed. Their old school no longer exists physically. The transition seems more permanent than it otherwise would. There is no going back to the old normal. There is no old normal to go back to. Everything seems metaphorical today given the backdrop of the world burning around us.

The summer lies ahead brimming with possibility. There is no agenda, no structure, just a vague notion that school will start in a few months. I am happy my girls got to spend one year of school going on the same bus to the same school. In the new academic year, everything will be new. Hopefully, everything will be better too.

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