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Graduation parties: Bittersweet rites of passage

Life with a View

June 25, 2011
DEB?PASCOE ( , The Mining Journal

I know another reason why graduation is called commencement. Not only is it a ceremony recognizing students as they complete their educations commence with the next phase of their lives, it's also a time when they, their family and friends attend graduation parties, where they commence to feast in a manner usually only associated with major holidays or the end of a weeklong fast.

Trays of dainty sandwiches, pans of pasta simmering in rich sauce and cheese, rainbows of fresh fruit, every conceivable type of salad, bars, rolls ... Even Henry the Eighth's legendary appetite would have been satiated in the face of such abundance.

My family's party for Melissa, our newest graduate, featured picnic foods: a vat of sloppy joes, a gallon of vegetarian chili, enough potato salad to fill the Superior Dome, vegetables with hummus dip, chips, watermelon, lemonade and vegan chocolate cupcakes. Melissa's graduation cake was a multi-tiered, red, black and white fondant-frosted confection prepared by my niece Amy, baker extraordinaire. Part chocolate with peanut butter filling, part white with raspberry filling, each slice was heaven on a plate.

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And if you think I'm exaggerating the quantity of food we served, let me tell you that we had 60-some guests and still ended up eating leftovers for a week. (Sloppy joes actually make a pretty good breakfast.)

As the mother of a graduate, I found myself not only hosting a party but attending parties in honor of Melissa's fellow classmates, many of whom I'd known most of their lives.

Upon arriving at each party I'd find myself wrapped in a bear hug with the graduate's mother. Those hugs were an equal mix of pride, relief and bewilderment. We did it! They made it! But wait... how did it happen so quickly? Just last week we were beaming at these same children as they marched in a ragged line, construction paper mortarboards askew, newly minted nursery school graduates.

It's not as if we didn't see it coming. The progression from wiggly toddler to poised young adult was clearly evidenced at every party in the traditional displays honoring the recently commenced. Alongside the academic and sports awards, and that hard-won diploma, was the obligatory collage of childhood photos.

You gotta love the collage, a parent's final, glorious opportunity to embarrass their child in front of God and everyone. Behold the graduate as a squinting, plump-cheeked newborn, a frosting-coated third birthday celebrant, a teeth-too-big-for-the-face grade schooler, a gawky middle-schooler. It's a photographic journey celebrating joy in our child's progress and faith in their ability to shape a successful adult life.

Like the collages, graduation parties are a mix of past, present and future. As our children focus eagerly on what lies ahead, we parents look wistfully at the lives they're leaving behind, lives in which we provided the central, guiding hand. Yes, it's a relief to relinquish 18 years of constant vigilance, but it's sad, too. As we celebrate the graduate we're also saying goodbye. Goodbye to bedtime tuck-ins, trick or treating and crossing the street holding hands.

No wonder we pile our plates with goodies, then return for seconds. We're eating for two: the graduate, and the child they used to be.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Deb Pascoe is a Marquette resident, mother of three and full-time editorial assistant in The Mining Journal newsroom. Her bi-weekly columns focus on her observations on life and family. She can be reached by phone at 228-2500, ext. 240, or by email to Read her blog online at



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