Graduations Remind Us of the Gift of Education

June 26, 2019 Updated: June 29, 2019

Graduations always win my heart.

I love them … the marching in with dignity, the deluge of encomium on shining-faced graduates—it’s marvelous because it is about individuals’ achievements. Each person stands on personal record. This is the spotlight students merit due to their hard work in cramming learning into their little heads. There are the awards and recognition for those who have racked up status as valedictorian or other honors. It is pretty heady stuff—for the students, but even more so for the family. Somewhere in my head the impression of baby days remains, so seeing the kid grown big is akin to seeing an epic movie of life highlights.

There are many life events that evoke transcendence—weddings, christenings, birthdays—even funerals. All might contain the seeds that sprout inward to give us a sense of why we are here: It is for the individuals we love.

Oh, team sports are good at giving joy, too. I even watched the recent Stanley Cup finals. Not because I’m sentimentally attached to the teams, but because I am learning, as we have a hockey player grandson on his way to Sochi, Russia, for a junior World Cup. Why they couldn’t hold the tournament in, say, Peoria is beyond me.

But nothing beats graduations for satisfaction in a job well done. Our hockey player just graduated from high school after devoting the past two years playing hockey while completing school assignments. The California university venue where his ceremony took place sent a lengthy complicated set of instructions on parking directives. It read like a very bad joke on bureaucratic overreach.

Nonetheless, graduations hit the mark for me.

Recently, my youngest granddaughter, Serritella, namesake of my mother, Della Serritella, graduated from eighth grade, here in Southern California, wearing a dainty rosebud embroidered linen dress reminiscent of the dress my mother designed and sewed for my eighth-grade festivities with my seven classmates at tiny Chicago Key Clark School. Both dresses were strewn with pink rosebuds on a white background. I remember my mother saved a length of the organdy fabric thinking someday to create a baby dress with pink rosebuds.

As we sat through my granddaughter’s uplifting graduation ceremony awash with reminders of faith, loyalty, and respect for the marvel of education, I couldn’t help thinking of my mother, the original Serritella. I realized it had taken over 100 years for my mother’s name to be entwined in academic achievement. I felt my granddaughter in a way fulfilling my brilliant mother’s faded dream of formal education. At the age my granddaughter is today, my mother was working in a Chicago factory sewing ladies coats to help support her family.

With Italian legal immigrants who came through Ellis Island in 1911, as my mother’s family did, there was no expectation of anything more than the joy and honor of becoming citizens of the United States of America. In fact, these people’s ethos could not imagine accepting help from the government or anyone else outside relatives. Their strong sense of duty pointed them toward individual efforts to secure their success.

I confess to ambivalence—had my mother had adequate support for education she would, I’m sure, have been a professional using her excellent mind. However, I greatly respect that sense of self-sacrifice and sufficiency which was their hallmark.

Serritella’s graduation was marked by such sweetness in having each of the 22 graduates present a personal letter to a teacher for whom they held admiration. Perhaps a similar exercise might have expanded to create a missive to the parents—the family—who were diligent in ensuring homework was completed and breakfast served each school day.

Education is truly a great gift. I liked the comment made by our youngest son long ago … “you put your money into our brains.” How nice. They noticed.

As to that extra organdy fabric with the rosebuds—it went missing. But the outer garments are not what counts.

It is what families—mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, all of them—put into the kids’
heads and hearts that whips the wind into their sails, launching them onto their life voyages of discovery.

Those winds crossed the Atlantic to uplift our families’ dedication to educational work.

And for that we give thanks. Gratitude is always a good thing.

Angela Rocco DeCarlo covered travel, entertainment, culture for the Chicago Tribune, Las Vegas
 Review-Journal, and Disney Magazine.