The Coronado, California school system named its football field Niedermeyer Field. Anyone who is a devotee of the movie “Animal House” knows that Niedermeyer was the name of the insufferable, pompous jock who, according to the legend stated at the end of the movie, was killed by his own men in Vietnam. The field in Coronado was apparently not named after him.
These thoughts occurred to me when I found myself there recently for yet another of those milestones that make you feel just that much older. My dear friend’s middle daughter was graduating from high school.
The ceremonies were appropriately touching. My friend’s father, the former superintendent of schools, gave his granddaughter her high school diploma. One of the student speakers told her fellow students to hold on to the moment and the memories for when they were old and bald and had gray mustaches. I leaned over to my friend Janis and whispered, “Back when we were that young, did we ever think we’d be the ones balding with moustaches?”
Students from the School for the Performing Arts, a high school within the high school, sang some songs. They sounded much better than the choir I remember from my school days. But then we were a small Catholic school and had limited talent from which to chose. So unless you were totally tone deaf, you made it into the choir. I didn’t.
And the commencement speaker at the high school graduation was a tad more prestigious than at my graduation. He was a past graduate of Coronado High named Admiral Thomas Fargo, Commander in Chief of the U. S. Pacific Fleet. I’m guessing he was the reason that the flag was presented by military parachuters jumping out of planes and coming down to the field in tandem with the flag waving between them. In my school, the Knights of Columbus marched in to do that honor wearing their plumed hats and carrying swords. Our commencement speaker was usually someone like Monsignor Vincent telling us how he hoped we’d all consider vocations in the religious life for our future
As my mind wandered back to my graduation, I looked down and laughed as I realized I was wearing black. I had finally become the little old Italian ladies of my childhood. Of course, I was wearing black because my sister had gone into some crazed state over Christmas and insisted I needed one nice ensemble that actually consisted of a blouse, pants and blazer whose materials and colors were meant to be worn together. The women of my childhood were wearing black because, as far I could tell, that’s the dress they put on after they took their wedding dress off and they never changed colors again.
Actually, that’s not quite fair. On cheery holidays like Christmas they occasionally went wild and wore gray. But they didn’t do this too often for fear that whichever relative they were currently mourning would be insulted by their gaiety a mere 12 years after the death in question.
The cement school yard on Mississippi Avenue and the inside of Atlantic City’s old convention hall were the sites of my graduations. They were a world apart from this beautiful manicured field in southern California. Yet I would venture to guess that the emotions running through the people there had not changed during the intervening years.
Parents cried at the sight of their children taking another step towards adulthood. Young people cheered the passing of another marker on their way to independence. Speakers spoke about a future bright with promise. September 11 only came up once and then as a challenge to be overcome.
And my friend and I sat there, side by side, her husband trying to avoid any impression that he was with the sobbing ladies next to him. We looked at all those beautiful young people and wondered if the sun was causing our hair color to fade and letting the gray show through. Ah youth. Now get me to electrolysis before the moustache starts growing.