The proper title of the piece is Pomp and Circumstance March 1 in D. It was composed by Sir Edward Elgar in 1901 and takes its name from Act III, Scene III in Shakespeare's Othello:
"Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!"
Today we know it as The Graduation March. It escorts all high school and college graduate candidates into and from the solemn and joyous, yet bittersweet ceremonies that set them gently on the next path of their lives. We've all been there and if you took it in the proper spirit of the moment there's no way you can be unmoved by hearing the music nor just a bit wistful for your own younger, simpler life.
Our niece, Christina Conley, graduated from Patrick Henry High School in San Diego this week and Carolann and I drove down to pay her homage. Christina is Carolann's brother's and sister-in-law's daughter but she is also the vicarious daughter neither of us ever had. She pretty, she's smart, she's fun and she's a good person with a virtuous heart.
I don't get to talk with Christina much. She hugs me and smiles with familial respect but I don't want to be one of those old-fart uncles who makes embarrassing remarks and offers unsolicited advice. I don't want to pry into her life but I'm sure curious about her interests and passions, her hopes and dreams. She has an excellent mind nurtured by her loving parents and grandparents. She also has a gleam in her eyes that tells me she's excited to be alive and to have the whole world opening to her.
She reminds me of myself at her age.
High school graduation, poised between sweet, secure childhood and exciting, though treacherous, adult opportunities; young, beautiful and relatively pure, we are arrived at the greatest single moment of our lives.
As I watched the Patrick Henry class of 2011 walk proudly, with great dignity and yet with goofy displays of the joyous child that still lives near the surface in each of them, I thought back to my own high school graduation and realized something:
The joy of youth lives in us forever. The trick is to not bury it in disappointments, which are inevitable, and bitterness, which is nothing more than childish pouting.
We still love you but after today nobody will dry your tears and give you an ice cream cone. Get over it. Get on with it. We still love you.
43 years and two days since my own high school graduation.
It sounds so long but it lived so fast.