Creative Writing – The Graduate Family

The Graduate Family

W. James Jonas III

May 2006

The day had finally arrived.  Finishing college, with honors and a degree, was far from a final career milestone, but it was a day that had been referenced for as long as he could remember.  From now on, the day would be referenced in the past tense.  His accomplishments were impressive, to those outside his family, but would have little bearing on the next steps he would take.  For him, reflecting on anything but the challenges and the mystery of the future was just plain boring.

The Executive Training Program at the company he is to join assures placement in a quality graduate school as well as funding for that next phase of his education.  For the first time he could remember, the questions of his first job out of college, where he would go to school next and how that education would be funded were capable of being answered with specific and truthful responses.  In some ways, that level of certainty was infuriating to him.  He had always thought of himself as superior to the rest of his peers because he could function, even excel, in an environment of significant doubt.

Such was not the case for his parents.  They liked certainty.  They craved the sure thing.  They wanted to check the box labeled “Last Child Graduated from College and Employed” as completed.  In fact, that was probably the one thing he hated about his parents, their friends, and all the other annoying people in the world that seemed to crave safety and security.  Now he was one of them, he had a sure thing; he had a predictable path; he was on a track that anticipated and eliminated barriers; it was enough to make him throw-up.

So, that is what he did.  Perhaps it was the pre-graduation celebration beverages the night before or the late night dining before driving back to the fraternity house and passing out.  However, such simple attacks on his stomach had never created such problems in the past.  He was not sick because of last night; he was sick because of the future.

Thoughts of how to “make” his life more uncertain lacked any options that would be anything above absolutely stupid.  As much as his current path was annoying, he would not lower himself to doing dumb things.  The dumb list included: retracting his acceptance of the position at Boeing, marrying Robin, declaring he was gay, going in to rehab, or enlisting in the Army.  Over the last few days, he had enjoyed making mental movies involving these options and how he would share this “new and exciting life plan” with his family.  Each one had its own humor, but none, in the end, accomplished what he craved.

As disruptive as those options appear, they all follow painfully predictable sequences.  Rejecting Boeing would bring similar offers from similar companies with painfully similar executive paths.  Robin and her mother had already mapped out the multi-year events that would follow an engagement announcement.  While not gay (he didn’t think), he had a pretty clear idea about the path that would follow coming out.  Rehab was such a well worn path for his friends and family, it would seem more like a return to old times than a new chapter, and enlisting in the Army (by its very essence) would be a certain path (except for the part about which enemy, which war, and possibly being killed).

Why did he want his life to be uncertain?  There was no clear answer, but he did dislike phonies.  A predictable life, to him, seemed very phony.  He also began to realize that uncertainty, the type he had used as a tool for personal growth, was not something you could bring upon yourself.  So, none of his “dumb list” provided the needed option.  It was time to have a tequila shot with the guys that all lived on the third floor and put on his cap and gown.

His family met him on the first floor of the fraternity house for photos and the obligatory parents’ brunch.  Robin came over from the nearby women’s college and was treated, by his mother, with courtesy that bordered  on kindness.  Such a shift in treatment made sense, Robin was no longer that potential “threat” to him not graduating on time and getting a good job that would pay for graduate school.  His mother’s courtesy was less about kind treatment to a close friend of her son’s and more of the nature of the required “quarter” provided to the vanquished.  In his mother’s mind, she had won, and Robin had lost.

Before the brunch was concluded, he had a few minutes, alone, with his dad.  They both still smoked; he said he was to young to have to quit; his dad said he was too old to quit.  Smoking gave them a chance to be alone on the back porch as they saw some of his classmates putting on military uniforms.  As on most college campuses, graduation day is also the day those student joining the armed services are commissioned.  “I think I would look good in one of those uniforms.”  That was the way he thought he could test his father’s reaction to one of the dumb list options.

“Perhaps one of them will loan a uniform to you for Halloween.”  My dad knew I was serious, but he was not the type to engage on the first pass.  “No dad, I am serious.”  “Yes, and I am serious too.  Do you know how much it costs to rent a costume like that?  It will be much smarter to borrow one.  The rentals look fake, and who knows … Robin might like the look.”  He could push the point and make him react, but the result was not worth the expected result.

He had heard the words before.  “Look kid.  I am proud of you, but I really do not care what you do next.  You have a sure thing in front of you.  You have earned that sure thing.  You are an idiot to not accept it and gratefully bust your tail doing a great job.  But if you want to take another path, go for it.  Just do not expect me to comment on it.”

It was time to walk up to the lawn where the ceremony would be conducted, except for the kitchen staff and Bob, the house would empty as all others had a role as participants or adoring spectators in the current version of the graduation exercises that this campus had been conducting for over a score of decades.  The responsibilities of the kitchen personnel were obvious; a brunch had just concluded and there was the necessary clean-up before the post-ceremony cocktail party began.

Bob’s job was different but was equally obvious if you knew Bob and entered the T.V. room of the fraternity house; Bob was regally positioned in the recliner he had dutifully occupied for the last seven years; beside him was , a cooler of with seven beverages unopened and before him was an episode of Love Boat that just starting.  Bob was not going to attend the ceremony; he had attended the first year he was supposed to graduate and for two years after that, but this year was different.  Bob was going to miss the ceremony, empty the cooler, watch the conclusion of Love Boat and then turn in early (very early); tomorrow, Bob would be entering rehab for the third time.

The sun was bright and hatefully hot.  The students’ tradition of only wearing a detached shirt collar, boxer shorts, black silk knee socks and loafers under their gowns was followed by virtually every graduate on a day like today (speculation on how this tradition will survive the anticipated transition to a co-educational campus was also part of the small talk on a day like this one).  The traditional dress of the guests was less environmentally aware; the mother of his room mate fainted from the heat before the President’s remarks; the heat could easily be blamed, but the night before, she had been greeted with the news that her youngest boy – a graduate today – would be moving to the West Coast to begin a career in advertising (great news) and a life with his high school sweetheart (a fellow football player).

So while other families withered, he was relieved to see his family, along with Robin, holding up rather nicely.  Good endurance and growing up in the Deep South made these hot spells in the Northeast of limited consequence to his family.

Immediately after the ceremony, Boeing was having a small reception at a nearby hotel; it was partially a reception for the President of the College who also served on the company’s Board of Directors, a recruitment event for promising undergraduates, and a welcome to new entrants in to the Executive Training Program.  All of his family was anxious to attend and thrilled to be meeting representatives from his future employer.  They were so happy with themselves, they did not miss the Director of Human Resources asking him to step away for a private discussion.

The message was simple.  A Federal Grand Jury in the Southern District of New York had just announced indictments against the company and three of its top executives.  There is an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors called for early next week where the future of the company will be determined.  Effective immediately, activities that do not directly support existing contracts are delayed for ninety days.  That delay includes his Executive Training Program.

He listened carefully to this new piece of information, smiled, and thanked the Director for sharing this information, and went back to the party.


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