Pomp & Circumstances

Five graduations! Hot students! Good vs. evil! Dave Brubeck vs. Eleanor Roosevelt! All this and a pack of Trojans!

His successor is Barry Lietz, who has been at the school for 10 years. He welcomes the crowd and says this has been a year of "new beginnings" for students who have made "choices, sometimes very poor choices." He tells the students to savor this last breath of free-spirited youth and "then go out and get a job." The crowd cheers wildly. "Or go to college," he continues. "And get yourself out of debt." More applause. Allison English, the class valedictorian, is introduced. Giggling and nervous, she says, "Maybe regular high school wasn't the place for us. It doesn't matter." English will later receive the school's mathematics award and has already received high honors on the Golden State exam. She says she wishes her classmates "happiness. Whether or not it happens is up to you. People are usually as happy as they make up their minds to be." Her voice remains cheery, but the message is practical—Abraham-Lincoln-grounded. Another speaker talks about the greyhound who cheats by jumping over a fence and catching the rabbit—who, in the end, "cheats himself of really becoming a champion."

Next, it's time to give out awards. Some of the kids on the grass become distracted and begin talking among themselves. An elderly man sitting in the back turns and tells them to be quiet. They are for a moment; then they facetiously take turns "shushing" one another. Onstage, scholarships and awards are handed out. Teacher John Andrew gives out the Bailey Daugherty award. Andrew was brought here by Daugherty when the school opened and, though he's had chances to leave, never has. There are many like him: assistant principal Sue Huff and teacher Johnel Swaim each have worked at the school for more than 20 years; long tenures at the school are common. Andrew says Silverado isn't a place where teachers are dumped, but rather where they ask to go and decide to stay. Which probably accounts for the fact that about 50 percent of the graduating class is going on to college. It also accounts for the fact that teachers and students have a unique relationship based not only on discipline but also on a realization, Andrew says, that "these kids have been through the wars." Before Andrew gives out the award, he comments on how things have changed. How Daugherty, whenever he had a student in his office, always began by saying, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em." He then mentions that he taught many of today's graduates' parents. He looks into the audience and says, "Hiya, Rick!" A man stands and waves back.

Another teacher follows Andrew to the stage. She takes out a piece of paper and begins to read. It's a student's tale of drinking, partying and fighting. Of not going to class, of discounting anything an adult says. It's a story of a young girl who becomes pregnant and is later told her baby has little chance for survival. She's advised to terminate the pregnancy but decides to have the baby. She gives birth to a baby girl she names Angelica, who lives two hours and then "passes on to heaven." She writes that her daughter's birth and death make her realize how shallow her life had been. She goes to Silverado. The teacher folds up the letter and announces that the girl is not only graduating today, but also graduating early—with honors—and going on to college. The graduates are asked to stand and receive their diplomas. They come onto the stage one by one, usually with their arms in the air. The crowd cheers, but the students seem to cheer louder for one another. When the ceremony draws to a close, Lietz congratulates them and tells them there is a reception in the school quad, but that they first must return their caps and gowns. A few good-natured boos. He dismisses the graduates, and family and friends descend on them. One woman shouts to her daughter, "YOU DID IT!" She grabs her, hugs her quickly, then does it again, this time nuzzling her face into her daughter's neck as she says, "You did it."

« Previous Page