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Little can match pride of parents at graduation

As a teacher, I'm always happy to see graduations in May and June.

As a parent, I'm even happier. My husband, Alex and I stood tall and proud at our sons' graduations. If I had been called upon to give their graduation commencement speeches, as a teacher or a parent, I would not be able to put my feelings into words more eloquently than did the late Giants' sports commentator, John Kennelly, who, commenting upon his son's graduation a few years ago, spoke volumes in a short address.

He knew what many other parents would have said about their grads in the class of 2001: "I would like to depart from sports this afternoon if you'll allow me to talk about a young man, a teenager. He's graduating from high school today, and while he has played virtually every game known to American kids, he's had fun at every one of them and excelled at none. His name is Paul.

"He roots for the Rangers, but he'd rather play hockey than watch it. He won't spend a Sunday afternoon in front of the television set to see the Giants, but offer him tickets to the game and he's on his way to the stadium. He and hundreds of his classmates will conclude another phase of their young lives when they're called front and center to receive their diplomas this evening and one has to hope that they can make something better of this world than our generation was able to.

"There'll be pictures taken of those kids this evening, and promises made among them pledging lifelong friendships. There'll be smiles and laughter and tears of joy. And there'll be a huge party afterwards and then an all-night dance sponsored by the school. And tomorrow at dawn, the dance will break up and the young people will head in different directions and, God only knows, when many of their paths will cross again, because such is the way of growing up.

"Speaking of those graduation pictures, none of them will ever match the one picture I have of Paul, a year and a half old, sitting on a stoop in our house in Key Biscayne, his face as red as an exit sign, squalling at the top of his voice for no apparent reason. He did that for most of the first two years of his life, again for no apparent reason.

"I have another picture of Paul, with his first real two-wheeler, wearing a smile as broad as the driveway he was riding it down. And I have another snapshot in my mind's eye at a ball game I took him to, holding a hot dog almost too big for his hand. And as fast as he ate into one end of the roll, that's how fast the hot dog was squirting out of the other end.

"That squalling, yowling, short round boy almost 17 years ago, who had trouble handling a hot dog for a little while, is now a strapping six-footer who could draw laughter from a statue. He's as typical a kid I guess, as all the others he's graduated with. A paradox: bright, but with lousy school marks, strong as an ox, and as gentle as a nurse. He can try on a suit and look like it has been slept in, two showers a day, fussy as heck about how he looks, and yet his room looks and smells like a logging camp sometimes.

"His parents spent most of his early life trying to get him to eat his vegetables, and by the time they stopped trying, Paul was eating anything that wouldn't eat him. Listen up Paul, and your classmates. The old order giveth way to the next. Effective tonight, no more being grounded because you didn't do your homework. No more calls to your parents from the guidance counselors and teachers when your marks reached the precipice and threatened to topple over. No more detentions when you oversleep and are late for class. No more grief from your father when you squander your hard-earned money for tickets to a rock concert. And, no more flack from the old man about why you would want to go to one of those noise festivals in the first place. No more of a whole lot of things that your younger brother is still having to live with.

"Today, you're a man. You're able to drive, to vote, to do a whole lot of things. You'll learn very quickly that with rights, and privileges, and license come responsibility and duty.

"I hope that as the years pass from here, when and if the time comes, you have sons or daughters who will give you as much pure pleasure and joy; and laughter and love; and hope and faith; that you've given your parents. I don't know if you have grown into one fine young man because of your parents or in spite of us. I'm Paul Kennelly's father."

Lots of good luck to all the graduating students. You've earned it.

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