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Graduation then and now

BY Rachael O. Phillips

High school graduation celebrations have come a long way since my husband — then boyfriend — and I graduated in 1971. Since he was valedictorian of a class of 750 and I blackmailed my way into the top ten, we really painted the town red.

We went to the Dairy Queen.

Today a 50-cent sundae no longer cuts it. Graduation celebrations now rank right up there with a Time Square New Year’s bash or the opening of a new Walmart.

Parents fall prey to open house syndrome, a disease in which they attempt to recreate their worlds before anyone discovers they have been living in squalor the past 18 years. Those missing the home improvement chip staple their thumbs together. They knock out walls — unintentionally. Talented home renovators are not content to paint their living rooms; they add new wings or build extra floors. Extreme enthusiasts construct theme parks in honor of their graduates. Paying for Britneyland or Brandonwood may mess with family budgets, so creative parents invent ways to offset costs. They charge admission to open houses, with extra fees for use of bathrooms and chairs. Some install magnets in sofas to collect visitors’ loose change. A few post relatives behind bushes to mug prosperous-looking guests.

Mothers often experience a variation called acute cleaning disorder, in which even the tiniest, gentlest women blow away dust bunnies and hoist pianos. Advanced cases not only clean under their own major appliances, but also sneak next door to scrub under neighbors’ refrigerators. While most recover from this distressing condition, chronic sufferers cannot cope with normalcy. When they run out of children to graduate, they hold open houses for teens they recruit off the street because their basements need a good cleaning.

Naturally, these extra celebrations call for new furniture and giant TVs.

Those with severe graduation open house syndrome also exhibit an obsession with senior photographs of their offspring. They share all 50 poses and backgrounds with waiters, flagmen and ATMs.

Other aspects of high school graduation have changed significantly. Take graduation cards. Forget flowery phrases that exalt worthy scholars who have traveled rugged roads to knowledge. Cards nowadays are all about honesty: “Congratulations! We never thought you’d make it!” and the ever-popular “Happy Graduation. Here’s money — now please leave our state.” Get well cards with therapy coupons for teachers also have become a hot item.

Although graduation gifts have evolved from pen sets in 1971 to Porsches in 2019, helpful books remain a timeless staple in the graduation picture. This presents a never-ending mystery to students; after all, they have waited 13 years to escape books. Still, they open Great-Aunt Clarabelle’s flat rectangular gift, hoping it contains gold bars rather than traditional devotionals like Blessed Are the Nerds, Thou Shalt Not Party and God Is Watching You at College.

Because of the high cost of a college education, financial advice books have increased in popularity as never before. At the top of the graduate best-seller list: Major in Money and Living on Oatmeal and Oxygen.

Friends and relatives enclose checks — and a Fort Knox gift card or two.

Despite the fact no one ever built us a theme park upon graduation, my husband and I have adjusted to the changes in celebrations over the years. Of course, we never overdid the open house thing with our own three children. (Roller coasters became very practical later when the grandkids came. Really!)

We would not think of hurting our friends’ feelings, so we attend open houses and force ourselves to eat piles of spicy meatballs and little hot dogs. To honor the graduates, we sample each and every cake along our route. For old times’ sake, we finish it all off with a sentimental stop at the Dairy Queen.

We go home to a big, empty house.

Full of junk.

We’re afraid to open the spare room doors. The yard resembles a pasture, and we really need a giant TV.

We jump back into the car and cruise downtown. There’s gotta be a kid there who needs an open house.