I have been attending graduation ceremonies this year. I attended my son’s graduation, some of my patients’ graduations and graduations for the College where I am a Governor. As I watch the graduates cross the stage, I find myself wanting to know more about them and their struggle. I want to know more about them and what their graduation means to them.
I cannot get this information from the black, or blue or white gowns they wear over their clothing. There is come information in faces: beaming smiles, nervous glances, eyes rolled when a parent calls their name to look to the front for a picture, tears. These same variations are repeated over and over on the faces of graduates as they pass by the podium.
The gowns of graduation tame young people into similar creatures in a way that is concealing. The gown demonstrates that each of these wonderful humans has met a standard that is important in their community – and ours. But how can I tell what it might mean for them at the most personal level? How can I learn what lies beneath that tame exterior?
I decide that I will see what I can learn from the one part of their outfit in full display. I decide that I will see what I can learn from their shoes.
Here is someone teetering across the stage in very high heeled stilettos. The stilettos are bright blue and brand new, and the wearer is clearly signaling that this event is worth some special attire that you don’t always wear.
Then comes a newly minted carpenter in steel toed boots, ready for those days when safety will be a priority, ready to head off for that first big job.
Then a stiff, young man walks across in highly polished brogues. Someone from the audience calls, ”Looking good, Joe!” The new business major looks sideways but his head doesn’t move, dignity as tight as those laced up shoes.
Ballet flats dance excitedly over, and pivot to wave and cheer, then two step their way to the grad party.
Small feet in Lace Toms glide across, courtesy of the wheel chair bringing them along. Four strong sets of arms accompany this graduate who is lifted to and from the stage. She just wanted to cross the stage like everyone else, and many hands made sure this girl could manage like every other high school graduate.
It continues: platform shoes, moccasins, flip-flops, boat shoes, golf shoes, loafers, high heels, high tops…bare feet! So many shoes, so many dreams, so much achievement in the thirty steps that end years of effort.
Shoes do not tell me much personal information about a graduate, but it is something. It is enough to make me want to ask, like Mary Oliver:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”