We were late. I had rushed from work to my parents’ house, picked them up —only to backtrack to the house as five minutes in Mom realized she was wearing shoes that didn’t match. Then, back on the road, we headed across town in rush hour traffic — only to be detoured off of the highway due to an accident, slowing us down significantly, before finally arriving and then struggling to find a parking space. But now, panting just a little, pits of my shirt visibly damp with sweat — we were seated. At my brother’s graduation.
He’s been a bit of a late bloomer. Changed his major a bit, took a few extra semesters, but, much to my parents’ relief, here we were. Here he was.
In a very large stadium, filled to the brim with students and families.
We were relieved to not have been late in the end — the ceremony still hadn’t quite started yet. We settled into our seats, I took pictures of the hall and of us. The students started filing in — we saw James! And took his picture. We stood for the national anthem, sat for the commencement speech, and then began the parade of students. The names called out one by one, and the students walking up one by one, which we all know from experience, can take hours. I settled in some more, starting looking around for concessions. This would take a while after all — it didn’t look like James would be up for some time.
And then a cold trickle went down my spine. Because I realized that after every student, there was clapping, and I had forgotten that this was the-thing-to-do at graduations. Clapping is perhaps the wrong word. I mean all the whoops and hollers and people standing up with signs and sometimes even noise-makers, all trying to be heard and to be heard above each other.
And I was concerned. Because there were only three of us there. And I am introverted — I don’t like standing out, I don’t like large parties, I even dislike simple things like calling up to make a reservation — I certainly don’t whoop and holler — and I am definitely the least introverted of our timid little trio.
James would walk onto the stage and off of the stage to the sound of crickets.
I had done it. I still bear the scars of my high school graduation — and my college graduation. Sitting and waiting for hours in my seat, painfully aware of the silence that would accompany my walk. Wanting to hope, but not actually daring to hope, that my family, friends (also introverted and small in number), or some miracle agent of cheering would come to my aid and be heard. But of course, it didn’t happen.
For me, the whole cheering thing is a drag. I get that it’s an exciting day and families and friends want to celebrate their special graduate, but there are some of us who just don’t have these large coalitions. International students whose family wasn’t able to travel over, students who maybe don’t have a family or don’t have one that is supportive. Or maybe — as in my case — students whose entire family in the country consists of four very supportive, but very introverted people who will certainly politely clap, but probably not much more.
And then it all just feels a bit like a public popularity contest that you are very publicly losing.
Anyways, I figured we had to at least give James (a small) chance. And so, I turned to my mom and dad and told them that in spite of the fact that it was clearly against our natures, we absolutely had to try and cheer for James. When it was his turn, we had to stand up and yell as loudly as we could. The anthem I chose was ‘Go, James!’ Short, simple, easy to remember.
And then I sat in fear for the next hour, waiting for our turn to cheer. And for each student that went up, all I was doing was measuring the cheers their families gave. I cringed when any were especially loud and felt encouraged whenever I heard just a little meep from a distant bleacher. Yes, that would be us too. The stadium was so big, and we were so small. It felt foolish to try. But, we had to of course.
And we did. We yelled as loudly as we could — well I did. I was so anxious the moment was all adrenaline for me, a blur. I yelled and remember hearing my voice as it came out, thinking Yeah, that’s my voice! It doesn’t even sound like me. I think Mom and Dad gave 60–80%, but I don’t actually know as I was so focused on my own voice. After we sat back down, a lady in front of us turned back and smiled. It might have been a pity smile — or just a normal smile, who knows.
I asked James later if he heard us. He shrugged. “Kind of.”