Graduation whirlwind

June 24, 2010

Hi, everyone. I’m back.

Where did I go? To a wonderful but surreal place called Commencement Land. For the last month and a half, our household has been lifted out of its usual routine by three graduation ceremonies.

The graduation whirlwind started on May 1st when our oldest son, Luke, received his bachelor of science degree in architecture from the University of Michigan. Attending commencement ceremonies at “The Big House” at U of M is interesting enough in itself.  Thousands of graduates, seated on the football field, become an anonymous sea of black caps and gowns surrounded by their more colorfully clad family and friends seated above and around them.

But this year, the ceremony was honored with the presence of the President of the United States: Barack Obama was the guest speaker. And so, for months before the event, the family of the graduates would receive information updates about what we would need to do on the big day and what we could and couldn’t take into the stadium that day. To see our loved one graduate, we would not only need tickets — we would also need to run through a Secret Service screening.

But we were lucky. We found good parking at the house where our son lived with five other housemates off campus. Then we walked in a river of humanity destined for the stadium. The rain held off, and we even took off our plastic ponchos. The Secret Service screening went quickly. We found decent seats. We saw Marine One fly near the stadium. Then I tried finding our son in the sea of black caps. With a small pair of binoculars and good directions from him (4 o’clock from the speaker’s podium, halfway down to the end) I did catch of glimpse of him on the field.

When the president arrived on stage, we saw him as a live dot far away from us, but larger-than-life on jumbo screens scattered throughout the stadium. The graduates, at their assigned times, rose from their seats to acknowledge their conferral of degrees, then sat down again. When the ceremony ended, we waited for Marine One to leave. Then the human river of graduates, family and friends flowed out of the stadium and onto the streets of Ann Arbor, headed for graduation parties. One of the parents of all the housemates where Luke lived helped coordinate a party for the guys. We stayed in Ann Arbor until 9 p.m.

The next morning, we were back in Ann Arbor with Luke’s grandparents for a much smaller gathering of graduates of the Architecture School. Family and friends filled Hill Auditorium on campus to hear their loved ones’ names and watch them walk across the stage for a personal handshake. After that, we celebrated at a local restaurant.

In the weeks that followed, Luke’s two younger brothers had a variety of  end-of-the-school-year events. I was also part of Royal Oak High School’s Senior All Night Party committee, helping with decorations, calling 120 families to verify if their graduate was planning to attend, and then chaperoning the party itself.

Our high schooler is Johnny. His graduation ceremony took place in early June. I had corralled Ray and Luke to help our committee pick up a massive number of balloons and decorations and deliver them to the party location early enough in the day so we could get back home to get dressed and drive over to the graduation site at Freedom Hill, a massive outdoor amphitheater across town.

After Johnny’s graduation, we traveled back on our side of town with his girlfriend and we all enjoyed  dinner at a local restaurant. Then Ray and I changed clothes and rested for a couple hours before the Senior All Night Party, also at a location across town. Luke and Ray and I helped set up decorations before the new graduates arrived. Then Luke went home (in a torrential rain) while Ray and I stayed behind to chaperone the event. We were part of a group of parents who could see, even through bleary eyes, the smiles on the faces of the kids at the party. Then we traveled back to the high school with the kids on the school buses so they could get back home.

Next to graduate from our house was Noah, our eighth grader. He walked across the stage at Royal Oak Middle School on June 18th. Afterward, we went to a local coney island restaurant with a friend of his. Then the school hosted an eighth-grade dance, which Noah attended. I drove him to a house where several guys and girls were gathering to prepare for the dance, followed by pictures of the dressed-up graduates on the lawn.

Two days later, our family hosted a large graduation party, mainly for the high school graduate, but also including a cake for the other two graduates. Planning for this party was squeezed between other graduation events. This included putting together the invitation, buying food at a local restaurant supply store and other local grocers, and, of course, cleaning and preparing our house, garage and outside area for this event.

Early the next morning after the party, Johnny and his teacher needed to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight from Detroit’s Metro Airport to Kansas City, Missouri, for the national SkillsUSA competition. Johnny is the state winner in the Graphic Communications competition, which qualified him to compete with other state winners in Kansas City.

We were supposed to pick up his teacher at 4:30 a.m. so that he and Johnny could get to the airport with enough time to clear security screenings for their 6:30 red-eye flight.

I’ve never slept through alarms — except for that night! The buzzer rang at 3:30 a.m. and I shut it off and rolled over. Ray woke me up at 4:30 a.m., asking me: “Weren’t you supposed to be picking up Mike Stinnett at 4:30 a.m.?” With a shock of adrenaline racing through me, I said “Yes!” So I quickly woke up Johnny, who was already packed, and we were our way in five minutes. A half hour later, we picked up his teacher and I dropped them off at Metro Airport at 5:25 a.m. While drinking coffee at a local Tim Horton’s restaurant, I kept texting Johnny to find out how they were doing at the airport. I learned they just barely got aboard their flight on time.

So now that my adrenaline has worn off, I can relax. The graduation whirlwind has ended and won’t arrive again for four years!


One comment

  1. Congratulations all around! I loved the days of high school graduations and getting ready for college. Anything is possible.

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