Saturday morning. It is 6:30. I sit here in the football stadium under an overcast sky wondering if three is too many to hope for. Will this, the third high school graduation I’ve saved these exact same seats for, be the one we get drenched? If not there’s one more opportunity in two years when our fourth walks this same path.
I am alone in the stands. Well, not quite alone. There are many other parents beginning to show up and even some already here before me, saving seats for their clans. But I am the lone clan member sitting here this morning saving a dozen spaces for extended family. I sit here and watch the activity before me and think about what we are celebrating and who we are celebrating.
Of course we celebrate you, the graduates. You have worked hard (many of you) and accomplished much (some of you). But whether you’ve worked hard for this day or squandered opportunities up until this day or struggled with friendships and workloads and other issues, here you all will be soon. But more importantly, here are gathering their family members to celebrate this day. The unconditional love that is driving all the bustle in the stands is palpable. It’s even forgivable that this love causes us to forget for a moment that everyone in the stands, saving the seats, jockeying for the best picture spot, all of us are here celebrating our child. We are all excited. We are brothers and sisters in this journey with more in common than we realize. We want this moment to last. I understand you. I feel you. Here. Use my towel. You don’t want to sit on that oxidized bench without wiping it down. We’re in this together.
Yes, of course, we celebrate you, our children and your accomplishments. But that cannot be all that we celebrate. I cannot sit here and watch the bustle on the field and on the track and in the stands and ignore how many it took to make this day possible.
I see your fellow classmates. They are putting out programs and sunglasses on every chair. They are dressed in their best and eager to serve you, their friends. They have all worked and played and laughed and even cried together and with you and at you. They do this for you and dream a little about a day one or two years in their future when others will be setting out their programs and sun glasses. This day would not be possible without the friends that helped you through these four years.
I also see a dozen men and women in the stands. They don’t have a child here. They have gloves on and towels that look like they once were white but are now a mottled gray and black. These dozen faithful are here simply to wipe down the stands before the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles come and sit down. They do this work quietly and faithfully. They are not looking for recognition. They appear embarrassed if you thank them. This does not stop my wife from seeking one out and giving her a big hug and thanking her over and over again. This is not the first thing these faithful servants have done so quietly in these four years to make this day possible for you. They have cleaned up after you. They have prepared rooms and facilities and picked up enough paper off the ground to republish whole sets of encyclopedias. Their work is as essential as it is overlooked. But you would not have this day to celebrate without them.
And definitely I see the teachers and administrators. They are preparing the stage and their speeches. These have sacrificed much for you. They have given up evenings to grading and prepping. They have sacrificed far better pay, even just a county away, in order to instruct and serve and love you. Many are the very inspiration you and other young men and women have needed to see a brighter future for yourselves.
I watch all of this and know that somewhere inside the building behind me are 500 plus soon-to-be graduates. You are not thinking of your fellow classmates who set up your chairs. You are not thinking of the staff who have cleaned up ahead of and after you for four years. You are not thinking of your inspiring and patient teachers and administrators who have watched and forgiven much in these four years. You are not even thinking of us your parents. Our work. Our tears. Our fears. Our twelve years of wondering how on earth we will ever get you to this day. No. You are, admittedly, thinking of yourselves. Your accomplishments. Your parties that will follow. Your futures.
And we gladly give you this day. We know that this momentary amnesia toward us and others is not who you will be in a few years. Maybe not even in a few hours. But even if it takes until you are sitting in these stands and you are saving your own seats and watching the commotion unfold before you. In that moment you will be free from that nasty beast of self-centeredness. We can forgive you and give you this day. We know (well, we ought to know by now) this is not an equally reciprocating love. We know that we will pour far more into you than we will ever receive back. It must be this way. It can only be this way. There is no way for you to return the sacrificial love we have for you. And we would be embarrassed if you tried to. We are delighted to celebrate you today. On this day, we are as impressed with you as you are. On this day, we come a little closer to knowing the perfect love of a Father who loves us not because we will ever reciprocate that love anywhere near the level of sacrifice he has given for us, but simply because he chose to love us. He is driven entirely and purely by his love for us. And we are driven entirely (though not always so purely) by our love for you.
But now my thoughts are interrupted. Because you have walked in. Yes, you, plural, you 500+ seniors who will graduate in less than two hours. But more specifically. You. Singular. You have walked in. You in your dress and your gown and your cap. You, who feel so grown up. I know. I remember. And you, who feel so scared. I know. I remember. And I see you. You and 500 of your closest friends walking to your seats. But they mean very little to me in this moment. You are all I see. But I can barely see you. My eyes are blurry. My throat feels funny. I am here and yet not here. I am in a thousand moments spread over 18 years and crammed into one instant. I’d say I cannot imagine loving another this way. But that’s not true. I love three others this exact way. I would live and die and give and cry for them and for you. And not because of who they or you might become if I love you all well enough. But just because. I love them and you because you are mine. I love you, because I love you. There is no higher reason. There is nothing I am after. I love you. Period. End of story. And realize I am loved. Period. End of story.