I don't mind the drive.
Road trips have always captured my attention, even when I was a little kid. I was thinking about that as my wife mentioned the back-and-forth drives my family will take to Sewanee this week.
"I don't like the kids being on the road that much," she said.
"They don't mind; it's like an adventure to them."
"The fact you got stuck in the back of a station wagon as a kid for trips to El Paso or wherever-Texas doesn't make driving an adventure."
"Fort Worth. That's where we vacationed."
"Oh, well, that makes all the difference in the world. For a minute there, I thought you had to drive to a hot, boring Texas town."
"They'll be fine. They'll be careful. They like the journey, too."
"Don't try to make driving on I-40 poetic," she said. "Because it's not."
Fate had placed two of my kids' graduations back-to-back on the Sewanee campus in south Tennessee. My son Sam graduated last weekend, while my daughter Abby, a 2020 graduate of the university, gets to finally walk in her covid-postponed ceremony on Sunday.
"You know, for Abby, it really has been a journey," I finally managed to say. "That year's graduates have endured and have been patient. They deserve it."
My wisdom silenced her, I thought. I pressed on.
I explained that there's a beauty to education that is worth waiting for. While my son walked across his college graduation stage last week, all I could think about was the Batman cape he wore as a kid. I think it was part of a Halloween costume that he co-opted into part of his everyday persona. He'd wake up every morning and slip the cape over his head. Shorts, T-shirt, sandals, cape. Jeans, flannel shirt, down coat, cape.
Soon, however, the Batman regalia found its way to a closet while he made room for soccer cleats or a school uniform or work clothes. He moved forward as he was supposed to, intent on leaving the things of childhood behind so the adult within could flourish.
Abby never wore a cape, but she clung to a stuffed monkey I gave her when she was 2 years old. She couldn't sleep without it and fussed the times it disappeared. As time passed, she latched onto sports and academics, and now flourishes in a job assisting Syrian refugees. It sometimes astounds me the miles traveled between the things of childhood and the responsibilities of growing up.
My wife nodded her head as I said, "Every parent of a graduate is thinking the same thing this month. Where did that time go?"
It brings to mind a sign hanging in my school's cafeteria, a sign with simple wording against a plain background. Though unassuming in presentation, the words are a beacon that pulsates on so many different levels. The sign reads:
Thou shalt not be a victim
Thou shalt not be a perpetrator
Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.
I had found these words in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and immediately recognized them as intrinsic to the lives of our children. While the words certainly spoke to the unique evil of the Holocaust, they also carry into the generations that succeeded that horrible era. They carry into the dreams of our own children.
While it's necessary to call out evil, to take an absolute soul-planting stand against it, the words about never being a bystander are also a clarion call for action. For engaging. For thriving. The words beg one never to sit passively as his or her life passes by but to storm the field of existence and embrace failures and triumphs, tragedies and sublime moments, challenges and successes. It's not enough to be a witness to the glories of this world; one must be an active contributor.
I climbed fully onto my soapbox as my wife patiently listened, her arms folded now.
Education unfurls this playing field before us, before our children. What will we do? The sideline beckons because it's easy, because it's safe. Will we gear up and get started? Will our children see our example and charge into this complicated, off-putting, yet magnificent, astounding life knowing that every valley gives rise to a mountain's perfect view?
The great secret of education is and always has been that it's about discomfort. It's not a pillow fluffed for a more lasting slumber. It's a challenge meant to expand and excite. Comfort relies on things never changing. Discomfort opens the door to lives tuned to be better and better.
Graduation recognizes the flow of the game and the discomfort seized. A diploma testifies to the journey from childhood to young adulthood and immortalizes all that path entails. It's a long road but one filled with the color and noise of living. Of actual living.
In the end, you won't mind the drive.
"I knew you were going to do that," my wife said when I finished.
"I knew you would try to make I-40 sound poetic. It's still not. But it was a good try."
Steve Straessle, whose column appears every other Saturday, is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @steve_straessle.