A wild mass of excited parents filled the generic school auditrium. Our talented and genius progeny awaited in the lobby, some in ties and some in shorts, some in dresses and some in jeans. Their younger siblings ran circles around the plastic chairs while Pomp and Circumstance played on a loudspeaker.
I’m not generally a fan of “graduations” from grades that are not the last one; one doesn’t “graduate” from kindergarten or fifth grade, but I understand and appreciate the importance of ceremony and tradition, of marking occassions. And so we took our seats and smiled with pride becuase our son was moving to middle school.
Part of the tradition is when the teachers make predictions, based on their knowledge of the students, about what each child will be when he or she grows up. It’s a fun game that I decided not to parse too closely; if I had, I would be in a feminist frezy, measuring the number of girls in sceince and leadershipship against those of the boys.
The teachers read clues, and the students were to stand if they fit those clues. For example, a student who loves sports, (both boys and girls would stand). He likes to research foreign lands and draw maps. (the girls would sit, and some of the boys). Finally, the idea was that the student who matched the descritpors would be the only one standing. Except that these are 11 year olds. They hardly know what they want for dinner let alone who they are as people.
And yet they do. They stood for all kinds of descriptions: loves sports, likes to help, makes friends easily, reads voraciously. And while each kid was matched with a prediction, it was obvious their ideas of themselves and of their dreams were as messy and tentacled and precious to them as they are to us.
Identity formation is complicated and scrappy. We tie bits of our family to bits of our inner life to bits of experience and we then step out into the world and try to manage all of it. But it changes, and we change, our our world changes. But the kernels, these little bits of self remain. Our son loves to dance, and has a wicked sense of humor. He’s witty and punny and he’s full of initiative. He may not be able to put those words together and understand that about himself, but he still knows its true.
By the time he’s sitting in one of those platic chairs, watching his own kids move on, he’ll have crystalized and clarified and morphed. He will have the words to name his character. But he’ll still be who he is. It was fascinating to see thiese kids stand to sort of shrug into the ideas, to try them on, to spin around, to see if they fit. It will continue to be fun to see them spread their identity wings.