Thursday, May 27, 2010

Roadtrip and Graduation

Erin and his father spent Tuesday walking (slogging) the Freedom Trail in Bawston. Blistering hot day. We lack no humidity hereabouts. This comes as a shock to those used to drier heat, viz Erin’s father from Idaho and even 10 year New England vet Erin. To unwilt them, we made a day trip up the coast to Maine on Wednesday.

We got on Route 1 and hugged the coast. It was much cooler than Tuesday. We got up past Oguncuit and swung back home. I do not know the extent of Dunkin Donuts’ reach, but we saw a pantload along the way. It is a cultural signpost, taking cultural in its murkiest connotation. The inescapable commodity of gloppy pastry and water-flavoured caffeine.

We had a picnic lunch by the beach in York. Lots of people were on the beach, but those actually in the water were few. Surfers wearing rubber suits had good surf to play with, or is it vice versa?

We later wandered on another beach. Tide was just coming in. The water on the flats was warmed to a plausible survivability. Stepping into the surf left my feet numb. I think the bestest thing was seeing some life in the puddles on the flat. Snails, barnacles, hermit crabs, and a fingernail-sized crab scuttling sideways. I love and a half looking at this evidence of teeming. I do not want to catch fish or any of the critters—I do not regard fish as food, thank you—I just like seeing the bluster of life.

No traffic jams along the way but a good bit of ready up for Erin’s graduation.

Which happened today.

Erin has slept at the motel with his father, which made it easier to provide a bed for Beth’s mother (who drove up Monday). We conglomerated around 8am for the drive to the city of Lowell, just the next town o’er. Erin attended the Bedford campus of Middlesex Community College, but the ceremony was at the big city.

The city of Lowell possesses uncommon beauty in architecture, with vivid factories and fancied up whatnot. When you look upon the landscape it is really lovely, with the Merrimack River and the canals and the rolling hills. The place is also a worn out dump, despite federal money poured in to the brim (the city itself is a national park). Don’t take my word for this, come check it out.

I went in with Erin as the others parked the phaeton. Lowell Auditorium teemed with wildlife, lots of nervous excited people. Erin had to locate the group he would walk with (Liberal Arts and Sciences). Easier said than done. Oh yes, and he had to put that gown on.

We tramped thru the crowd until we came to the end of crowd, then worked our way back. Eventually, we found where Erin belonged. I left him properly in line and gowned to a fare-thee-well. Including the goofy hood thingie.

I hooked up with the family, and with invited friends. I went back to give Erin a last hand slap and get a few more of my patented poorly composed pictures. I did the normal  thing, scanned for the tallest person in the throng (Erin is 6’6”). I realized I went too far and came back. A grad caught my eye and pointed down. Erin was sitting cross-legged and meditative on the floor.

And then the ceremony. Not for high school, AA,  BA or MA did I walk. I’m not proud of that tho I guess I was at one time. The point is, I have not seen graduation before.

Most of the speeches were brisk enough. The highlight was Liz Murphy (I think  her name is). She was a homeless teenager who managed to not just graduate from high school, but Harvard too. It is an inspirational story, of course, but she was more interesting than that. She was lively and well-spoken, tho a trifle nervous.

I jumped ahead mentioning her.  First the processional. The familiar sounds of Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance Numbers 12 & 35 rose up. I know there are several P&Cs, and somehow, I associate the music with my father. After a few bars, some bagpipe music was delivered from the lobby. Three bagpipers, and three drummers marched in. The two musical forces tussled then P&C backed off until the pipers and the mysterious entity called The Student Marshalls had entered. Then the Elgar beat returned and the grads entered.

It was a slow process getting the grads into the auditorium and seated. Is Erin coming? Yes, finally. He bowed as he walked down the aisle.

Of course the big punchline of graduation is the doling of diplomas. This was a long process. The process was made worse by the obnoxious use of air horns, and several crying babies with heartlessly immovable parents. Erin tipped his cap when he got his diploma. The gestures are not typical of Erin, but that fact somehow is typical of him. Expect the unexpected.

Okay, this was just a community college, and only an AA, but I had tears in my eyes. The accomplishment is magnificent.

Erin is uniquely gifted, as are we all, but his gifts are balanced by difficulties. It has been wondered whether he has Asperger’s and finally doctors have said no, because his empathy places him outside the spectrum. The autistic spectrum, it is becoming clear, is extensive. It encompasses many more of us than was formerly thought.

Charles Olson’s words, I have had to learn the simplest things last, have been something of a motto for me. They seem even more apposite for Erin. He is a wonderful, creative person, innocent in the best way. He is also socially awkward, and faceblind (as is his grandmother): he does not easily recognize faces.

Erin was homeschooled because of his difficulties, plus growing up in Alaska where schools were not the best. He took some courses at the community college as part of his homeschooling. This enabled him to get into college without a high school degree or GED, but certainly well-educated. Fulfilling the 2-year degree allows him to enroll in the UMass system, which he has. Community college, then, was like prep school, except without the silly sweater tied around the neck.

This last semester was not pretty. He expected to have four courses, but he also had two incompletes to finish, and an advisor error meant he was a credit short unless he took one more course. It was a ragged run to the finish line, but he got there.

So I am proud of Erin. We understand education as a collection of information, a simple acquisition. In truth, education is a process of individuation, defining ourselves as joyful singularities. The university chime of diversity is fine in a promotional way, but it charges the barriers more than brings us together. Our singularities join us. Erin’s unique gifts, or yours, or mine, or Beth’s, are the chances to deliver light. Emboldening cultural distinctions will not. Erin’s uniqueness is not embraced in the campgrounds of normative education. Humanity’s progressive steps, however, will be made by those keyed to the individuation.

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