By Jerry Zezima
I have never been to a graduation at Yale, Harvard or any other Ivy League school, mainly because I couldn’t get into one of those prestigious institutions unless I broke in at night, in which case I would be arrested and sentenced to serve time in another kind of institution.
But I recently did attend a graduation at Old Steeple, a preschool in Aquebogue, New York, and its moving-up ceremony beat anything a university could put on. I admit to being prejudiced because my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, was in the Class of 2017 and, I can proudly say, graduated magna cum little.
The impressive event began as Chloe and her classmates filed into the church above their school and waited for the formal procession past dozens of guests. They included my wife, Sue, and yours truly (known to Chloe as Nini and Poppie), as well as Chloe’s mommy, Lauren; her daddy, Guillaume; and her little sister, Lilly, who is 9 months old and won’t be in preschool for another two years.
Mrs. Kramer, the teacher, and Mrs. Link, her assistant, guided the 19 members of the graduating class into position. That’s when Chloe spotted Sue and me sitting in the second row. Because she didn’t expect us to be there, her eyes widened and she broke the line, rushing up to the first row and squealing, “Hi, Nini and Poppie!”
Sue and I smiled and waved.
Chloe looked at me and said, “I’m so glad you could make it, Poppie!” Then she said, “Doh!”
It’s an utterance most recently made famous by Homer Simpson, but it was originated in the early 1930s by James Finlayson, eternal antagonist of Laurel and Hardy. Chloe and I have been saying it to each other since she learned to talk, so I returned the greeting.
Sue nudged me and whispered, “Stop fooling around.”
Then we both indicated to Chloe that she should get back in line.
“OK, Nini and Poppie!” she chirped and, accompanied by Mrs. Kramer, reclaimed her spot.
The exchange drew an appreciative chuckle from the audience.
As “Pomp and Circumstance” did not play, the students walked up to the altar and took their seats on folding chairs that were arranged in a horseshoe shape. Mrs. Kramer stood at the microphone and welcomed the guests.
What she didn’t do was give a commencement address, a refreshing switch from the typical graduation ceremony in which some bloviating speaker tells the graduates they are “the future of this great nation” and urges them to “go out and change the world,” which would have been an unreasonable exhortation to kids whose idea of change not too long ago involved their diapers.
One by one, the students went up to the microphone and said a rehearsed line that introduced the next part of the program. Some were tentative.
Not Chloe. When it was her turn, she strode up to the mic and said in a strong voice, “We will now sing ‘The More We Get Together’!” For emphasis, she elongated the last syllable, which drew a laugh and a round of applause from the audience.
Then the graduates sang the catchy song:
“The more we get together, the happier we’ll be. Your friends are my friends, my friends are your friends. The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”
When the hearty applause stopped, Chloe looked down in my direction and again said, “Doh!”
The crowd chuckled once more.
The rest of the program was just as delightful. At its conclusion, Mrs. Kramer stepped back up to the microphone to hand out diplomas. The first student she called was Chloe, who took the sheepskin and, with a flourish, bowed to the crowd, which responded with enthusiasm.
“She’s tops in her class,” I said to Sue, Lauren, Guillaume and Lilly, who recently learned to clap and was doing so, perhaps unwittingly, for her big sister.
Afterward, everyone went downstairs to the school for milk and cookies. It was a fitting end to the best graduation I have ever attended.
Yale or Harvard couldn’t have done better.
Copyright 2017 by Jerry Zezima