Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New Horizons

The long-awaited day had finally arrived.

Every May as long as I could remember,  I had ridden with my parents to the school auditorium, located in the old red brick elementary building in my small community. I had watched as cap-and-gowned eighteen year olds had marched down the aisles to the sounds of a local pianist playing Pomp and Circumstance on the school’s black grand piano. I had dreamed of the day I would experience this enormous rite of passage myself ~ and that day was finally here.

Our entire senior year was filled with those once-in-a-lifetime moments.  For my class, preparations for graduation actually began the year before, as we purchased and began wearing our Senior rings. We had been doing fundraisers our entire high school career, working toward funding the Senior Trip, but as we ended our Junior year the momentum increased.

We met to make such important decisions as class motto, class flower, class colors ~ decisions so momentous that the only choice I remember is the class colors of Blue and White! We researched and voted on the location for our Senior Trip, a dude ranch near New Braunfels, Texas. (We also voted on three lucky teacher/sponsors to accompany us on said trip, which was undeniably the highlight of their lives!)

Each season during the year of a high school senior brings a heart-gripping wrench as they realize it is the very last time they will ever experience certain events: one’s last football season, basketball season, band competition, livestock show, awards banquet, UIL competition. All those experiences are coming to an end. And while most high school seniors are chomping at the bit to be free and get on with their lives, there is that sobering realization that everything is about to change. In our case, there were about a dozen of us in a class of forty-two seniors who had attended twelve years of school together. We each had plans following graduation—plans that would take us in many different directions, separated for the first time in our lives. Our small town was the only community most of us had known. The world outside Petersburg, Texas loomed large—simultaneously exciting and frightening.

Our last days together as a group culminated in the Senior Trip, taken shortly before graduation. We felt carefree and light as we boarded our chartered bus with our sponsors and headed to the Texas Hill Country. We laughed, reminisced, played, pulled pranks, and mostly thought of little except those few days of unencumbered, stress-free fun before life turned serious again.

A few days later, on our graduation day in May of 1966, the Mamas and the Papas were singing Monday, Monday while OUR Mamas and Papas were either singing the blues or singing Hallelujah, depending on the level of trouble we had caused them. Our Class of ’66, however, was perhaps remembering the lyrics to our class song from 8th Grade Graduation: “I see a new horizon; my life has only begun.” *

I remember driving myself to the school that warm May afternoon, since we had to arrive early to dress and rehearse one more time. I parked in the empty parking lot, glancing at the sky while potential thunderclouds gathered, and felt a surreal sense that I was actually about to step into a brand new phase of my life—a life that I sensed would not always be sunny and clear but might at times be clouded by dark, difficult days.

As I carried in my clothes, I thought of my mother and me, carefully choosing my graduation dress to be worn underneath the long traditional gown. My dress was white, fashionably hemmed to just above my knees. There was a lace overlay on the bodice, a gathered skirt, and a baby blue sash around the waist. I would wobble down the aisle in white high heels as well, my brown hair styled in a sixties “flip” underneath the mortarboard cap. Uppermost in my mind was not what my college major was going to be, or what career I would choose. I was mostly anxious that I make it across the stage to accept my diploma without tripping or otherwise embarrassing myself!

My parents, grandmother, and some aunts and uncles would be on hand to applaud for me and wish me well. I had already received many graduation gifts and cards from people who had known me all my life and wanted to acknowledge this momentous occasion.

I did, indeed, manage an uneventful stroll across the stage that night. Along with my fellow students, I listened dutifully to the speaker as he addressed our future decisions and potential accomplishments. While I don’t remember details, I vaguely recall hearing his challenge to make the most of our days, and soberly took his words to heart.

But here is what I wish I had heard . . . what I needed to hear and understand that night: every decision you make has consequences. 

The students who are graduating from high school and college this spring, fifty-one years later, are hearing similar words of wisdom spoken from podiums across our land. Most of those students will barely hear the words, so intent are they on rushing headlong into the next phase of their lives. Our class of ’66 was no different. But oh, how I wish this girl had thought more carefully about not just walking across the stage without tripping, but about taking deliberate, steady steps in life. 

I am currently enamored of a book written by Lysa Terkeurst entitled The Best Yes. In describing how to make the best decisions for our lives, she states in chapter six that "Today's choices become tomorrow's circumstances." I like that. She continues by quoting a passage from Andy Stanley's The Principle of the Path

     "The direction you are currently traveling--relationally, financially, spiritually, and the list goes on and on--will determine where you end up in each of those respective arenas. This is true regardless of your goals, your dreams, your wishes, or your wants. The principle of the path trumps all those things.
     Your current direction will determine your destination. And like every principle, you can leverage this one to your advantage or ignore it to your disadvantage. Just as there are paths that have led us to places we never intended to be, there are paths that lead us away from those places as well."

For those of us in the class of ’66, there is no way to undo all our historic bad decisions. Most of us made mistakes and poor decisions that didn’t seem very significant at the time. However, in different ways, some of us are still living with the repercussions of many of those choices today. But it’s not too late for us to make better choices in this final stretch of our lives. And just maybe, we can influence our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to make more prudent choices ~ choices that honor their own moral values, that weigh the consequences of their decisions, and that align with the path that takes them where they want to go. It’s not impossible to choose well, but it does take discipline and the strength for delayed gratification.

Do the young people in your life a favor and let them know that yes, they CAN wait for the right things, be people of integrity, and make honorable decisions. They have within themselves the ability to be grownups and make tough, responsible decisions. Let them know you love them and have confidence in their ability to choose well. And though the tune may sound ancient to them, maybe they will hum a little of Beyond the Blue Horizon on their own.

* "Beyond the Blue Horizon" is a 1930 song composed by Leo Robin, Richard A. Whiting, and W. Franke Harling. Jeanette MacDonald introduced the song in the film Monte Carlo.

Judy Martin Bowyer, Copyright 2017