By VALERIE LOOKINGBILL
PA Cyber Charter School
The Pennsylvania sun will be hot against the flesh unconcealed by the blue of my robes, its fabric falling well-below my knees. A gold rope hangs loose around my neck, its tassels will swish as my feet scoff the sidewalk, attempting to maneuver through the throngs of graduates and their families. I will pass through one clump, then contort myself around another, determined to keep afloat in this sea of strangers, each face in passing as unfamiliar as the next.
And I know at some point I must have been in contact with a few of my fellow graduates, screen names painting themselves upon the canvas of my eyelids, determined to make some kind of connection to this mass of bodies. And I know that as my skin will brush against one after another, I might have spoken to some through text, collaborated with more within a virtual room, though never once knowing their faces.
But this is custom, said Karen Cummings, an instructional supervisor at PA Cyber Charter School, this “lack of connection” with other cyber-schooled students. When spending your high school years in a nonconventional manner, there are bound to be differences in your interactions with others. And while cyber schools tend to heavily promote clubs and various activities, so many of their students are “meeting for the first time at graduation,” Karen said.
Despite being strange to one another, the euphoria of graduation cannot be altered, for that sense of honor, that sense of pride, remains constant to a graduate no matter the school or the generation.
Completing high school proves to be a memory fond in the minds of nearly all, with each recollection unique to its beholder. For Vic and Sue Castellano, graduates of York Catholic High School in 1959 and 1960, respectively, they were glad of the transition it served, allowing them to venture into the real world. Looking back, Sue can still remember the setup of the auditorium, with reserved seats for the graduates near the stage, parents and grandparents nestled behind them. At the start of the ceremony, the graduates walked down the middle aisle, family and friends gazing upon them with pride, with a “quiet dignity,” Sue recollected. “There was a serene atmosphere to it.” Yet among her classmates, there was a buzz of excitement, for “you thought you could do anything you wanted to. You didn’t know exactly how everything would turn out, but it didn’t matter. Just the prospect of it all was exciting.”
Vic said he is proud of graduating from a Catholic school, appreciating that religion was able to be part of his studies. He also noted that there was a great discipline in his school, one that resulted in a sense of “honor and respect.”
Sue said because it was such a small school, “everyone knew each other by association.” Teachers and students “knew you by your family.” They could trace you by generations. “In way,” Sue said, “this gave a more close-knit environment.”
Yet Elena Eckert, senior at The Academy for the Arts, Science, and Technology, commented on the advantages of graduating from a public school. She said, “It’s what people dream a typical graduation would be like. We get to be around our friends and family…and have a big celebration that shows how far we’ve come and that we did it together. In that way, it’s special.”
In looking back, Elena said she’ll remember most the “great friendships I’ve made. [My friends] are like my family, and I’m so lucky to have experienced this with them.” She noted, however, that graduation in any manner is a huge accomplishment, one that is “bittersweet, almost surreal. It’s a time to reflect on the first part of your life and have all those great memories with you in the next chapter.”
And I know that as I will stumble my way through the crowds into the auditorium I will experience this same bittersweet sensation with each step closer to the stage. For I know when my feet move across the wooden platform that I will be closing a chapter of my life, my high school education becoming a stepping stone onto something greater.
I can’t say that I will be disappointed when the feel of my diploma reaches my palm, when high school becomes yet another memory. And in doing so, it will not matter when I graduated or from where, that swelling sense of pride the same for each generation, for each alumni. For in stepping off that stage I will find myself upon another life’s stone, quite content on not knowing what my future might bring me, or what memories I will someday recollect.