By David Weinstein
“This little light of mine, I’m goin’ let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine” – Gospel Song
It had been a rough spell, my stroke, my wife’s eye surgery, and a bout with COVID-19. It seemed I’d been housebound since Christmas, and I was eager for any opportunity to get out in public. It came in the form of an invitation to the 2022 Pitzer College Commencement Reception. Never mind that it was for a first cousin twice removed who I’d only seen a handful of times in her 21 years, I was finally getting out of the house.
Pitzer, a small, private liberal arts college, is set in a tree-lined neighborhood of Craftsman homes more reminiscent of a small New England town than a Southern California city. In my excitement to get out in polite society, I overlooked that Claremont, where Pitzer is found, is 40 miles inland and can get decidedly hot this time of year. When we arrived, the temperature was already over 100, and the closest parking space was three quarters of a mile from our venue.
Marching and grumbling in the immense heat, I began disrobing. The first thing off was my sweat-stained tie, followed by my sports jacket with the deep purple crescents forming under the arms. Walking along, I less resembled someone on their way to an august academic affair than an exotic dancer performing at a gentleman’s club. When I started unbuttoning my shirt, my wife cast a sideways glance that said if I did not stop my behavior there would be extreme consequences to pay. As you might expect, I was not in the best of moods when we reached our seats.
Still surly, I inspected the crowd. Everyone seemed uncommonly festive despite the heat, and though I had thought the event called for more formal attire, many folks were dressed in “Jimmy Buffett” casual.
As I settled in, and caught the “vibe” of the crowd, my mood began to improve. The atmosphere was an overwhelming mix of World Cup Soccer final, Packers/Vikings football game, and Nobel Prize awards ceremony. There were no disinterested third parties.
When the strings of Pomp and Circumstance began to play, and the graduates marched past the crowd into the facility, people began to stand. Grandmothers and grandfathers were helped from their seats, mothers stood tall on their high heels, snapped pictures, waived commencement programs, and shouted toward their graduating sons or daughters. Siblings stood on chairs. The emotions were palpable, and from a few claps and shouts, the enthusiasm level rose steadily until it was a deafening uninterrupted roar. At some point, I got caught in the collective spirit of the group. Two generations, three, perhaps four, seeing their progeny go forward. The first in many families to graduate from college. For some, a notion that, at one point in time, may have seemed as alien as sending their offspring to the moon—but here they were. I could viscerally feel the hope, the joy, the pride, the hard work, the expense, and the sacrifice that had gone into this day. Chests that had been held tight for many years loosened, let go with a sigh of relief accompanied by a great feeling of accomplishment for all it took to get to this place on this special day. And I must admit that at some point the thought of my young cousin’s great-grandfather, my dad’s older brother, came to mind, and how proud he might be if he were here, because this is how we go on, L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Caught up in the moment, I had to wipe the moisture from my eyes. Maybe it was just the heat, but I don’t think so.
And, finally, when the surnames of the graduating students were called, many difficult to pronounce, I thought how this country, in great measure, is built on the dreams of immigrants. People, who, often at great cost and risk, made it to our shores. And those who might disagree should attend a graduation ceremony. These are the young men and women who will soon take on the mantle of responsibility and face the challenges of our future. I am optimistic.
You can witness this first-hand if you are fortunate enough to attend one of the upcoming Laguna Beach High School graduation events (lbhsgradweek.com). The broad smiles on the graduates bedecked in cap and gown, and their proud parents, are easily worth the effort. You’ll feel so uplifted, you might even be able to ignore the summer traffic, at least for a while!
Congratulations to the Class of 2022 –Let your light shine!
David lives in Newport Beach and his column often appears in the Independent.