Slightly Retired

"I make an effort to attend the Middle School graduation each year, even if I don't have a special person graduating. It is an only on South Whidbey experience that I cherish. I like the early morning hour, the crowded mash of parents, relatives and friends, the bleachers that get harder every year, the rising temperature and lack of air in the old building, the undependable sound system, the sparkle and excitement of the graduates, the tears-through-smiles of parents, and the love flowing from staff to graduates and back again and then around the gathering. High school graduations are outstanding, but don't have quite the same tug-at-the-heart. High school seniors tend to have, or at least, put on, an attitude -- it is cool, cynical, and somewhat patronizing towards Mom and Dad, especially if a tear happens to appear in the corner of an eye. Eighth graders glow and beam with whatever praise comes their way. With senior graduates, one gets the feeling of aloofness. For grown-ups, both occasions are a chance for reflection and remembrances, but I wouldn't want to go back. I might give a word of warning to all graduates that freshman English, whether in high school or college, can be a watermark experience. Mrs. Perkins taught freshman English in my high school and I liked her. I had a feeling she liked me. This was the class for drudge memorizing of parts of speech, verb forms and tenses, sentence structure, adjectives, adverbs and participles. Mrs. Perkins was patient, although would sometimes close her eyes briefly and sigh when the class responded with only wrong answers. Most of us struggled and learned it all. I'm grateful now to Mrs. Perkins, because in an older adult class in writing at Skagit College under Marian Blue, we still talk about that stuff.Mrs. Perkins also taught a literature class in 11th grade which was much more interesting. That's when she became my forever favorite teacher. She had a funny, dry sense of humor, yet taught from the old tradition--severe and opinionated. She never complimented or criticized, but would write a note on returned assignments: This is awful, this is better, verb tenses are wrong, spelling unacceptable, and so forth. It probably was the pinnacle of my school years when she called me to her desk after class one day and said, Here's a library pass for next week. You don't have to come to class; we're going to be battling our way through 'The Merchant of Venice.' Read it in the library, if you wish. What high praise! However, the next day I told her I wanted to stay to class and, when the time came, I wanted to recite Portia's soliloquy, which I'd already memorized at some place in the past--The quality of mercy... She said, without smiling, Thank you, Betsy, that would be very welcome, and threw the pass in the wastebasket.Freshman English in college was quite different. First of all, the teacher was a middle-aged MAN, a professor, who I thought condescending and obviously bored with having to put in his valuable time with lowly freshmen. Furthermore, I was completely intimidated; I'd only had three male teachers in high school and they were not at all like him. I can't remember his name, but I remember what he looked like and his casual, well-dressed, superior demeanor.We wrote a lot of essays for class and he read the best ones aloud pointing out to the rest of us where and how the writing was good. The recipients of such praise smiled slightly and I'm sure felt absolutely wonderful. The others in the class, like me, felt the lack of praise and told ourselves: It's only freshman English. Most of us barely passed. I've received compliments over the years, but Mrs. Perkins' was the best because she only gave them meagerly and almost grudgingly. Praise is a tricky thing. If it is doled out to everyone, it becomes meaningless and the recipient will feel the insincerity. But praise makes us feel wonderful. It's the whole point of the Miss America Contest, the Nobel Prize, television ratings, spelling bees, and the Olympic Games. Yet somehow, the best praises are small ones and are spoken quietly--a unique, thought-over phrase, such as, That's a stunning tie, You look delicious tonight.,We all wait for the peachy compliment that we can wallow and roll around in, bring into conversations, repeat into our pillows, plant in our hearts, whisper to ourselves over and over. It feels so good.Each graduate deserves a special compliment, a word of praise -- distinctive, simple, just for that one. To Colleen Johnson, 8th grade graduate, I say, You are a splendid young woman in every way."

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