Salutatory Address by Katherine Rosenberg, HGHS Class of 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
~ from HGHS Graduation Day

There are many tents like the one we’re in. The first time I ever saw one, I was three years old, on a family vacation in Canada, and there was a tent in the town’s main parking lot for somebody’s wedding.

Being the impressionable three year old that I was, I decided then and there that I wanted my own event in a tent like that. OK, fine. It was more specific than that. I decided then and there that I was going to marry Barney the Purple Dinosaur in that tent in the parking lot, with pizza and apple juice.

Then, when I was four, we went to the Big Apple Circus, which is housed in a very similar tent. As a slightly less impressionable four year old, I did not in fact decide that I had to join the circus, as I might have the year before, but I did greatly enjoy the experience, and it confirmed my love for events in large tents.

But this is not a wedding tent, or a circus tent (although sometimes it feels like one). This is a graduation tent. And it’s the same graduation tent that I’ve seen for thirteen years. To be honest, the first time I saw this particular tent, I really didn’t care. As a kindergartner playing AYSO soccer on the adjacent field the day before graduation, I had more important things to think about. Things like the wildflowers growing on the field, or the orange slices the parents gave us between quarters. A tent simply wasn’t that exciting when it didn’t have circus performers or wedding guests.

But over time, as I continued to play soccer on these fields, the tent returned once every year. There were no more mid-game oranges, and I started to focus more on the soccer ball than the flowers, but one thing that didn’t change was the tent. It was still unexciting and empty, but it was a familiar presence nonetheless. It was something timeless and consistent: every year it went up at exactly the same time, and every year, it looked exactly the same: a tall, white, almost ethereal structure.

Every year, that is, until I was in sixth grade. That was the year my sister graduated from Greeley, the year I finally entered this tent. It didn’t look as magical as I had imagined at age three, or as pristine and ethereal as it seemed from the soccer field. From up close, you could see the dirt on the heavy white plastic, the tears in the canopy. There were so many chairs that you could barely walk around, and the previous day’s rain had left the ground incredibly muddy. Then, halfway through, it began to rain again, and the hole in the canopy above me provided the perfect conduit for the rain to fall right on my head. Two years later, it was my brother’s turn to graduate, and instead of raining, it was 500 degrees, or at least that’s how it felt under the tent.

Sometimes you discover that your childhood dreams are unattainable. Sometimes you grow out of those dreams. Sometimes you achieve them, only to discover that they are not as worthwhile as you might have imagined. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was not going to be able to marry Barney. But the funny thing is, I don’t remember ever being a huge fan of Barney. So when I discovered that marrying him would be rather impossible, I wasn’t too upset. I also no longer crave pizza and apple juice at my wedding, or to be married in the parking lot. And the graduation tent was physically a disappointment. It should have been made of a pure white, gauzy fabric that repelled all water, dirt, and heat, creating a perfect atmosphere inside. It should have been—not larger, but more spacious. I should have been able to see and hear everything perfectly. But the thing is that, despite the less than ideal conditions, despite finally realizing that the tent is an object bound by the laws of nature like everything else, my siblings’ graduations did nothing to diminish my love of large tents, or the importance of this particular one.

So many things have changed since I was in kindergarten. It’s inevitable that as time passes, everything can’t remain the same. We move up a grade, we learn new things, we start new activities, we make new friends. People move away, new people move in. And, of course, we graduate and move on. But some things are constant underneath all that. Some of us have been going to school together since we were two. Some of the same teachers and coaches have been graced with my wonderful presence for the past for years.  To me, this tent represents the combination of these factors: it goes up like clockwork every year, but it does so to say goodbye to our graduating seniors. It’s a constant, but it’s a constant that honors the inevitable change we all experience. And it’s a reminder that just because something isn’t the way we imagine it, or completely ideal, that isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s impossible for the graduation tent to look the way I used to think it would, but graduation is about so much more than the tent it’s housed in.

It’s about us. The graduating class. It’s about the thirteen years of schooling that have led up to this point. The countless essays, orchestra concerts, school plays. The state tests we endured, the educational movies we watched, the teachers we learned from. The friends we made, the clubs we were in, senior musical, color wars, which, despite what Emma says, Grafflin won—just look in the district newsletter. And of course, there are some things we’d rather forget, but as a whole, it’s been a wonderful, unforgettable experience that has molded all of us into who we are today. To quote the first book I read in English class this year, this is not a story to pass on. It’s one to cherish, one to celebrate.

But, while there are times that I would like things to remain the same forever, to stay at Greeley and not risk going to a new school in a strange city full of people I don’t know, that is impossible. The eminent thinker Dave Barry once said that he assumed that his son was going to college for a very simple reason: because at some point, they stop letting you go to high school. And he was partially right. We all have to graduate, to leave Greeley behind, but while some of my classmates are surely happier about this than others, it’s a good thing. We’ve had a great four years, and now it’s time not really time to leave; it’s time to move on, to start something new.

So this is not the end, but rather the beginning, and I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true, and the reason I know that it is, is that if I come back this time next year, the tent will be here, just as it will be if I come back in ten years. It won’t be exactly the same, as there will be a new graduating class to see off, but it will be here every time. It’s a never-ending cycle, so this couldn’t possibly be an ending. Instead, it’s a celebration—a celebration of everything we’ve accomplished and everything we will accomplish. And while I’m disappointed that Barney couldn’t be here to celebrate with us, I’m very proud to say: Congratulations to the class of 2014! We’re graduating!

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