We went to Carlos’ graduation this morning. It was definitely the weirdest graduation I have ever been to.
The county decided to hold the high school graduations at the fairgrounds. Everyone—graduates, families, guests—spent most of the time in our cars. Like at the drive-in, we tuned our radios to a particular station to hear the audio. The graduates moved to a staging tent in groups of 10. Everyone onstage was masked except when they were speaking.
They still managed to have many of the usual features of graduations: a few short speeches, a handful of awards, the handing out of 235 diplomas. But other bits were not possible. No choir or band performed. No crowd of graduates moving their tassels from one side to the other or tossing their caps in the air. No hugging the principal after they accepted their diploma.
I was curious about this event, not only because it is a big milestone for Carlos, but also because of a question that has been nagging conversations in the theater world—if we put everyone in their cars, would they still be an audience? I think the answer is no. I felt a lot of things this morning, mostly pride in a young man who has accomplished so much, but I didn’t feel the camaraderie that comes with being part of an audience. I didn’t feel the ripples and surges of emotions that move through a group of people, shoulder to shoulder, sharing an experience. Whatever theater in the COVID era will be, I don’t think this is it.
Carlos was excited, although he did say it was not what he had pictured. He’s graduating a year early, a rather late-breaking achievement as he realized this was possible only in October. The classmates he walked with weren’t the ones he’s always moved through the system alongside (although two of his good friends were in his group). He actually was supposed to graduate in August, as he needed to do a class or two in summer school in order to graduate early, but with school being cancelled, he had enough time on his hands to get it done this spring. Just a couple months ago, he didn’t even plan to walk.
He’s graduating into an uncertain world. It is ever so, but I think it’s safe to say that this is a more unstable time than we’ve had in recent memory. Due to the uncertainty of in-person instruction, he has deferred his admission to universities by a year, delaying that decision. He’ll get some gen-ed classes done at the community college first, and then reevaluate. As excited as I was for him to launch, I’m also pretty happy to have him in town a bit longer. This spring has been the longest time we’ve gone with out seeing him. He came by on Tuesday to drop off a parking pass for the graduation and go for a walk to the river, and it struck me how very much we all had missed him. He is so very dear to all of us.