Navigating the Graduation Maze

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By Jack Sparacino
For some of us, growing up can seem almost like a race to graduate from school so we can begin our adult lives.  Lots of studying, lots of thinking about what may lie beyond. If we’re lucky, we get an uplifting, inspirational speech at graduation from someone accomplished, someone special. Someone who’s “been there, done that.”
Perhaps even someone who hints at all the learning and unofficial graduations that lie ahead. Not linear, not always predictable, sometimes confusing or troubling.  Humorous, fun, even rewarding, if you’re lucky. These graduations are rather like a maze to navigate through and, hopefully, to be inspired by.  And they start early in life, way before the great speech.  Here are a few that have come my way so far.
1. No more high chairs or phone books on your seat at the dinner table.  Hey, you’re tall enough to eat at the grown-up table without getting a boost.  And no more bibs!  (Now if there were only a way to steer around those pesky vegetables …)
2. Growing tall enough to ride roller coasters and other carnival rides.  Congratulations, the top of your head sticks up above the cutoff line drawn on the board placed before the ride. Get on board, hold tight. And don’t shrink even an inch or they might throw you off!
3.  Getting your driver’s license.  Well, the lessons paid off, now we’re getting somewhere.  Freedom, independence.  A photo ID.  Gas bills.  Traffic.  How much did you say the insurance is? Getting lost, figuring it out. The best music of your life on the radio or CD player.  Prom night. Yikes!
4. Being old enough to vote.  Eighteen — what a great age. The world is starting to treat you like an adult.  You have a say in elections. Your vote counts just as much as anyone else’s.
5. Getting that first “real” job. In my case as a line worker in a large assembly plant in Milwaukee, Wisc., in the summer after freshman year. Making stuff that customers need. Punching a time clock. Earning money for school.  Working with “grownups.”
6. Being able to afford some things that used to be out of reach. Back in my student days at The University of Chicago, going to the Museum of Science and Industry was free. Good thing, too, because I seldom had much “walking around” money, and going to the museum was a great break from the classroom. They now charge $15 general admission, which would be fine if I could remember where East 57th Street is.
And back then, by the way, a fully loaded hotdog from the street guy’s truck cost a dime.  They were great.  So did a soda and the daily paper. I don’t miss having to figure out whether to get the soda or the paper but not both.
7. Starting a family.  The first baby arrives. You and your spouse have arrived. The diapers, lack of sleep, magical developmental milestones, trips a few years later to places you’ve never considered going before (Chuck E. Cheese anyone?) and unbridled pride and joy have all chugged out of the station. Take a deep breath, that train isn’t turning back.
8. Being told that “life begins at 40.”  Hey wait a minute … that sounds like a marketing ploy. Too glib, too easy.  Eventually you figure out that living your life the way you really want to begins the day you make the decision to do it.  (Of course a plan would be nice, too, and some comfortable shoes.)
9. Getting that invitation letter.  You know, the one from AARP CEO Addison Barry Rand asking you to please consider joining this fine organization.  Hey, that’s for old people, I’m only … 50.  That’s ancient for a package of baloney, really old for a car, not very old for a person.  No, not very old at all.  But hey, thanks for thinking of me and I’d love to have another card in my wallet and some travel discounts.
10. Shades of gray. Noticing that most of your remaining hair is now gray.  Even in the back. Not a problem, just call it silver. Voila!
11. Getting senior discounts without even asking. This is actually fun the first time or two. Then maybe you start to wonder, “Do I look that old? Well, maybe I look distinguished anyway.”
Yeah, that’s it, distinguished.  You’re making it through the maze.  Congratulations, grab the camera.  And say “Cheese,” buddy!

Jack Sparacino has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Chicago.  He has published over 20 articles in psychological and medical journals.  He is retired from United Technologies Corporation and now lives with his wife, Jane and their two dogs on St. Helena Island.  His hobbies include fishing, clamming, crabbing, shrimping and writing.