Mesa Musings: And now for the next step

It's the hap-happiest time of the year!

No, the frost is not yet on the pumpkin, nor are jingling bells in the offing.

Rather, it's that special season for slaps on the back, leis and kisses, and bad speeches. It's time for Mr. McGuire to advise young Benjamin, "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … plastics."

It's graduation season. And I love it!

We see giddy grads proudly bedecked in funky gowns, wearing silly square hats featuring dangling tassels that wrap themselves around eyeglasses and stick to lip gloss.

Joyous commencement!

It's a time for recognizing accomplishments and completions and for moving forward to new challenges and distant horizons. It's a ceremonial rite of passage. A significant life transition.

I know something of graduations; I've attended a few. Like nearly 100! I'm a commencement junkie. I collect graduations like Lily Tomlin collects Bakelite jewelry.

I've attended my own graduations and those of my siblings, my kids and my grandkids.

And I've attended ceremonies for lots and lots of other people I've never met. I confess to the following: I get a lump in my throat each time I watch graduates walk across a platform to receive their handshakes and diploma.

I attended 36 commencements while serving as Orange Coast College's director of community relations. I was a member of the Commencement Committee for three decades and I wrote the commencement script every year for the last 20.

I understand the drill.

For more than 20 years, I was a member of the subcommittee responsible for selecting OCC's student speaker. I've heard a hundred audition speeches if I've heard one! And, yes, I used to tear up and choke back unmanly sobs each time I listened to one.

I desperately wanted each of the deeply earnest candidates to succeed.

They'd exerted great effort in putting down on paper their thoughts and feelings about graduation, and I owed them my honest attention and benevolence. Some students had knees knocking, hands shaking and voices quavering so palpably that I seriously questioned their ability to survive the audition.

But bless their little hearts, they did.

One young woman delivered a 25-second homily, then sat down.

"Uh, dear, weren't you able to flesh out a few more details?"

I graduated from Everett A. Rea Junior High School in Costa Mesa in 1958; Costa Mesa High School in 1962; and OCC in 1969. I also graduated from Cal State Fullerton (1971) and Pepperdine University (1975).

But my most memorable commencement came in June 1964. I graduated from the academically challenging eight-week U.S. Army Information School at Ft. Slocum, N.Y., and was christened an Army correspondent.

Many in our class of 75 were college graduates, and dozens in the class washed out. Because of its proximity to New York City, many instructors were NYC media professionals.

My news writing instructor, for example, was an Army private first class who'd been drafted eight months earlier. He'd been wrenched from his civilian post as a New York Times beat writer. He was a tough cookie.

After completing our final exams and being told we'd officially graduate, we stayed up all night celebrating.

Graduation was at 10 a.m. We were running on fumes, but our hats went high into the air and we whooped loudly when the commander pronounced us "U.S. Army Information School graduates."

That afternoon many of our number received their next assignments. Half left that day for all points of the compass.

The next afternoon, I caught the 3:17 out of Penn Station for Atlanta, and then on to Ft. Benning, Ga.

Only one of my Slocum classmates did I lay eyes on again. I replaced him a year later — in July 1965 — when I took over his assignment as Army correspondent in Seoul, South Korea. He rotated back to the States.

Though the last time I saw my Slocum mates was years ago at a raucous graduation ceremony, I've never forgotten them.

Graduations stick with you.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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