Of all the quirky, off-putting, not-quite-right situations going on in our Covid-crazed world right now, cancelled graduation ceremonies are near the top of the list.
Most kids dream of the day when they'll zip into an ankle length polyester robe, put on a coordinating square hat sporting a dangly tassel, and walk across a stage in front of hundreds if not thousands to shake hands with a stranger. As their name is announced, they will be handed an empty cloth-covered case, and the crowd will roar with approval.
Alright, I'll be the first to admit that's kind of a kooky tradition but darn if we all don't look forward to such a notable act of completion, and in that respect, I'm sorry for the graduates of 2020, high school and college alike, for the fact that they are missing out.
So all the more was my intention to be sure that the graduates in my life were properly fêted with that other time-honored graduation tradition of receiving envelopes stuffed with cold, hard cash.
Yes, as you may have guessed, the homemade graduation card is alive and well at my house, and I created quite a flock of them this year.
^ First, I painted. I truly believe the psychotherapy profession and self-care industry would shutter their windows and close down forever if we all spent time every day with several shades of acrylic paint, a paintbrush, and a short stack of printer paper. This is a sublimely satisfying way to spend an afternoon, and it's no accident that I decided to make this my first step.
Rather than facing the unmasked masses, I decided to make do with the supplies I had on hand at home. I picked six pairs of similar shades of paint - two blues, two greens, two teals, two reds, two yellows, two pinks - layered them one on top of the other, and combed through them to create interesting lines.
Yes, paint combs are a real thing, and just in case you don't believe me, I'll link you. Here.
^ Though I wasn't entirely sure of my design concept just yet - I mean, let's jump in with both feet and figure out the details later, right? - I was pretty sure I wanted black covers. So I painted some more. Black and white. And combed some more too.
It's insanely satisfying.
^ Now that my therapy session was complete, my stress gone, and my chakras fully aligned, I started in on the math.
First, I wrote out the names of each graduate and counted the number of letters in their first name.
Then I tallied the number of numbers.
Wait. That's doesn't sound right. Oh math, it's so hard to put you into words sometimes.
What I mean to say is that I counted up how many graduates had 8 or 7 letters, 6 or 5 letters, and 4 or 3 letters. That number would drive how many pages needed in each book, as you will soon see.
In a first-ever situation, this year I had a graduate with a two-letter name. Boy, her card threw me for a loop. But we'll get to that later.
^ Now at this point, my brain was throbbing with all these figures and I needed a break. So I cut the cardboard covers. That was easy.
^ Next came the tricky part. Using the grid on my paper cutter to make the measurements, I cut watercolor paper to varying lengths, based on the number of letters in each name.
^ Then I accordion folded each strip, using a bone folder to get super sharp creases because I'm all about those super sharp creases.
Which probably goes back to the day when we used to iron creases down the front of our Levis. I don't remember exactly when that was a hot look, but trust me, there was such a time. And this fashion statement didn't work on just any old jeans. Had to be Levis. This may have happened during the anything-goes 70s but trust me, we had standards.
^ Now it seems that around eighteen years ago, there was another hot trend - though this one had nothing to do with ironing your Levis. No, this fashion statement was all about giving your newborn baby a name with seven or eight letters. I sure had a lot of long names crop up on my list this year.
And since my watercolor paper was not long enough to afford me seven-or-eight-letters-long strips, I had to do some splicing.
And I'm extremely sorry to say that it was about halfway through this splicing step that I ran out of glue sticks. So work screeched to a halt while I placed a glue stick order for pick up at Target and dug around for a clean face mask.
It was a while before I got back to work.
^ But eventually the day came that I had spliced all my strips together, weighted them down with some big, heavy books called dictionaries and encyclopedias that we used to read in the past but now only use for weighing down things that have been glued.
I was ready for the next step.
On each folded page, I glued a background paper. For most of these graduates, who used to be my math students, I used pages from some old algebra textbooks. Now when my students opened their cards, they would see the old familiar font of their math homework problems and be horribly triggered. And then they would remember, "Oh, right, I'm graduated now and I never have to work another grizzly old algebra problem in my life." Sadly, that's probably not true but graduation is no time to burst anyone's bubble so I won't say a word about college level math.
But a handful of these cards are going to graduates who were not my students, so I needed a different option for them. For the boys, I found a sleek and simple design that looked kind of like a model of a molecule, and for the girls, I drew daisies.
* * * * *
Then, in a blur of late-night sessions of wild cutting and pasting, I snipped out the letters of each graduate's name from my painted papers and glued them over the background papers. One letter per page.
I also wrapped the cardboard covers with the black-painted papers, then glued and taped the heck out of them.
Picking a second color to coordinate with the first, I made a simple pocket to be attached to either the last page - for odd-numbered names - or to the back cover - for even-numbered names.
And just to go the extra mile, I sprinkled a few hole punches of the pocket color across the pages with the names. I'm all about telling a cohesive color story too.
Which probably goes back to the day that for every shirt in my high school wardrobe, I had a color-coordinated necklace. The girl in my class who won Best Dressed that year, Dee Ann Maki, used the same strategy only with color-coordinated scarves instead of necklaces. I felt, then and now, that we were kindreds.
^ Okay so here we are,
accordion strips spliced and folded,
background papers in place,
names glued down,
pockets at the ready.
This is a good time to just stop, breathe, and appreciate my work in progress.
Besides, the next step requires ribbon. And that means another trip to the store.
So here's a question I often ponder. How long can you wear a face mask before it needs to be washed?
And is that based on the number of wearings or the total hours worn?
Oh Covid. You're confusing on so many levels.
^ Okay, deep breath. We're on the home stretch.
Attach the ribbon to the inside of the back cover with a whole lotta tape.
From the two colors used on each card, cut out the numerals 2020 (or 2018 or 2019 - I'll explain) and glue to the cover.
Now glue the covers to the backs of the first and last accordion pages.
On bitty scraps of paper cut to fit the pockets perfectly, write out a small note of congratulations, And run to the bank - no mask needed at the drive thru ATM! - for some cash to stuff in the pockets as well.
* * * * *
Ready for the final and most fun step?
On tiny strips of white paper, write a word that begins with the corresponding letter in each name and describes something special about that person.
I love this process.
Oh sure, I could write "amazing' for every A, "excellent" for every E, and "intelligent" for every I. But what fun would that be?
Instead, I spend a fairly obsessive amount of time, poring over lists of personal characteristics online, debating the pros and cons of various adjectives - what exactly is the difference between "moral" and "mature"? - and trying to nail each graduate's personality as best I can.
In the end, I glued the tiny descriptive words under each letter, and finally - at long last - my cards were done.
And now, may I present to you, my graduating class of 2020.
^ These guys are identical twins who have been friends of our family since they were five months old. We've spent an infinity of hours with them jumping on our trampoline, baking chocolate chip cookies, and watching Finding Nemo piled together on the couch. Now they are all tall and cool and teenager-y and when I'm out walking my dog over at the high school and happen to see them with their friends, I just nod and smile and try not to make a scene. But that doesn't mean I don't love them forever. Because I do.
^ When my youngest daughter was wrapping up her career at our K-12 school for homeschoolers, there was a group of younger kids who started taking classes with me. As I went through the pangs of dealing with an empty homeschooling nest, these students stepped in and kept me busy doing what I loved to do. The oldest of that group has now reached graduation age, and Laney is one of them. Woohoo, you made it, Laney!
^ Lydia is a missionary kid who grew up in China and moved back to the States as a high school junior. Smart as a whip, she had some gaps in her math education and a big fat Algebra 2 credit that she needed to earn in order to graduate. The fates brought us together and this lady worked her tail off to wrap up the year with a solid A. Cheers, Lydia!
^ Madalen was another one of the kids I took on as my own homeschooling years were winding down. You know how, when a group of kids gets wound up and full of energy, there's often one who sits quietly at work, deep in her own thoughts, and apparently blissfully unaware of the nearby chaos? Yep, that's Madalen.
^ In our family's homeschooling social circle was a family of ten kids and the youngest was Grace. I've known her since she was five, all big brown eyes and long brown hair, following after a crowd of older kids and silently watching the world spin around them. Now Grace is graduating from university and has found her own voice. It's been a joy to watch her unfold.
^ Lily is another long-time family friend and homeschooling buddy. Many are the hours she spent horsing around with my youngest daughter while Lily's mom - my teaching partner - and I planned classes, troubleshot problems, and talked forever, as moms do. Lily's now all grown up and graduated from college with her nursing degree, and I can't imagine a better use of her smart and spunky gifts.
^ I often teach math to multiple kids in the same family but not usually to siblings who are working at the same level at the same time. Esther and her one-grade-younger sister, Evie are an exception to that rule, and the three of us spent three years together in their living room, learning math and sharing life. I'm shamefully late in recognizing their graduations: Esther graduated high school in 2018. Evie in 2019. Both spent a year at a Texas bible school before pursuing their passions - for horses and cows, respectively - in ranch management.
^ Quite often, I work with students who have a natural aptitude for math and work hard, but for one reason or another, just have not experienced that aha! moment when all their studies come together and ignite their brains with an explosion of algebra. Daniel was one of those students and during the year we worked together, it was a total joy to watch him catch fire. He also has a super cool gaming chair that he allowed me to sit in while I taught him lessons. Honored.
^ Here is Jo, recipient of my first two-letter name graduation book, and all-around lovely person. She's the oldest of four, and while I worked with her for just a few months, I'm now teaching her second-oldest sister. So that means she's stuck with me for a while.
^ I worked my way through the whole Smith family: first Makenzie, who graduated from high school years ago and has since wrapped up her bachelor's degree and in 2019, a master's in education. Next comes Isabelle, who graduated university this year, and third-born Natalie who finished high school in 2018. Yippee to all three of you for your dedication to math and your amazing hard work. So glad to be part of the family!
^ Last but never least is this lady, the youngest bio-sibling of her family and the fourth of the four kids to pass through my program. Just when I thought I'd worked myself out of students, this family was thoughtful enough to adopt one more and hopefully he will eventually end up in my tutelage. But there will never be another student quite like Danielle - I'll always remember explaining new concepts to her smart-as-a-whip brain as she sat intently listening while stroking the little black dog curled up on her lap.
* * * * *
So there you have it, my graduating class of 2020. And now that my cards have been delivered to each of your deserving hands, you may grasp your tassels, graduates, and move them from right to left. You are officially graduated!
* * * * *