Saturday night, my cousin graduated from high school. We went. I have to confess, I was expecting to doze off in a tiresome, never-ending ceremony, overstuffed with pomp and dreary speeches. I didn't. It was beautiful.
For the first time in four decades, the ceremony was outside in the old, palm-lined courtyard (the auditorium flooded). The night was unseasonably mild and breezy. As the sky darkened and the girls proceeded beneath the arches, it was quite lovely.
Lucy gave a gangbusters Salutatory Address. Awards were awarded. And then the main speech was delivered.
The speaker was our very own, Pulitzer-nominated Chris Rose. And he was pitch-perfect: very funny, and very serious (you can read the speech in it in its entirety here). He spoke of this group's exceptional experiences and challenges. At one point, he addressed the "lost everything" kids, a group that included my cousin:
For those of you who fall into that huge swath of our community known as "lost everything," people try to tell you it was just stuff, get over it, at least you're alive and what you lost was just stuff.We, personally, lost a lot in the storm, including some things I cared very much about, but these girls were just about to step out into the world when all the things of their childhood were swept away. Too much. I got a little misty.
Yeah, well. It was your stuff. It took 17 years to get that stuff. And if it all disappeared in one day then, hell yeah, it's all right to be mad about that.
But move on. Make the anger work for you.
At the end of the speech, Chris received a standing ovation. The Cajun maw-maw behind me sniffled into her Kleenex and repeated, "That was beautiful. That was just beautiful."
Diplomas were awarded. Photos were taken. The ceremony ended with the girls encircling the courtyard, lighting candles, and sheepishly singing the school's alma mater. Then we ate finger sandwiches.
It's funny. Now, however many months later, the storm has receded a bit. Daily life goes on. But then we come together in these communal moments and something about that shared experience is tapped into. We grieve a little (and celebrate). It's powerful and good.
Congratulations, Lucy. Exceptionally well done under exceptionally difficult circumstances. You should be proud.
Nifty factoid: Of the 88 graduates, 23 had some variation of "Mary" in their name, most commonly "Marie," most commonly as a middle name (or, as in the case of my cousin, one of several middle names).