Pomp and Circumstance
Click here to read about Wade’s experiences with privileged students and their spoiled (though perfectly toned, coifed, and manicured) mothers.
By Wade Rouse
Each spring as the redbuds bloom and tulips pop along the walking trails that fork through the Michigan woods I now call home, I swear I can still hear the strains of "Pomp & Circumstance" carried along by the spring breeze.
For more than 15 years – in my former, pre-Beach Coast life – I worked as PR director for some of the nation's best educational institutions, including one of the oldest, richest and most prestigious prep schools, an experience I chronicled in my second memoir, Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler. There, I not only wrangled the “Mean Mommies” but I also juggled endless events.
Covering Commencement was an annual May tradition for me alongside handling a myriad of alumni reunions plus May Day, in which little girls danced in floral dresses while senior girls in virginal white dresses wrapped a towering May pole with colorful ribbons.
May always tested my sanity.
May was a springboard to summer vacation for students and faculty, but for me May was endless work and a springboard to even more – admission materials, alumni publications, planning for fall events. May was also a springboard to my past.
I grew up in the Ozarks and attended a rural school that sat in the middle of a field and offered its students few, if any, amenities beyond the chance to go "cow-tippin'." I often felt as if I had landed on the moon when I got the job at that prep school. The campus looked like a movie set. And a large chunk of the students, parents and alumni like stars.
I was continually in awe of the incredible advantages these students had available: A passionate faculty; endless extra-curriculars; top-notch college counseling; amazing AP courses; and, of course, more connections than a flight to Fiji.
But with those privileges came palpable pressures. In the prep school world, such pressures often develop before a child's vocabulary.
Which preschool will lead to the best lower school?
Which middle school offers the most intensive foreign-language program?
Which upper school lands the most acceptances to the Ivies?
Who will be the Harvard legacy? The Stanford MBA? The Duke doctor?
Children were often set on paths to their futures before they even had a chance to play hopscotch. I witnessed many prep school kids who weren't allowed to be, well, kids: To fall and get back up on their own. To fail at something, anything. To follow their true passions, their own paths.
My mom and dad were the first in their families to graduate from college. They largely paid their own ways, following their lifelong dreams of becoming an engineer and a nurse. I know they were often astounded by my desire to be a writer – to pick a career that didn't seem "solid" enough – but they let me follow my own meandering path to these Beach Coast woods, serving as my guides, not my anchors.
What I chose to do with my life was important to my parents not because it defined them to others, but because it defined me to me.
I vividly remember my mother calling me one May day as I was heading out to another Commencement. It seemed, my mother told me very calmly--as if she had just run out of paper towels--that my father had set himself on fire while burning a pile of leaves. It wasn't the first time this had happened.
"What did you do, mother? Is he OK?" I asked.
"Oh, he's fine! I just walked to the front door and yelled, 'Drop and roll!' We all have to learn from our mistakes, right?"
I headed off to Commencement, astounded by my family but feeling bizarrely blessed. I watched the year's senior class – a group I knew would likely be running our world in the near future – and I could only hope as they walked across that stage that they had been allowed to screw up on occasion, to set themselves on fire, as it were.
I think of America’s graduates every May as I walk my woods and pray they not only commence into promising lives but, most importantly, find their own paths, no matter where they may lead, no matter how unconventional.
May is such a time of promise, a time of new beginnings, so as you and your families springboard into summer, promise me this: You’ll have fun, you’ll take risks, you’ll screw up at least once, and you’ll be yourself: Because that is the springboard to greatness.
Wade Rouse, Beach Coast contributing author and best-selling memoirist, recently announced that his first book, America’s Boy, has just been re-released. If you missed it first time around, you must read about his journey of self-discovery and acceptance and the people he loved—and who loved him—along the way. His story is funny, poignant, and most of all, heart-felt, and every experience shaped him into the man and writer he is today.
Wade Rouse is the acclaimed author of four memoirs, including the bestselling “At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream” and his latest, “It's All Relative.” A new anthology about famous humorists’ dogs, “I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship,” was published September 2011, and proceeds will benefit the Humane Society. Wade has been hailed by NBC's Today Show, USA Today, The Washington Post, Detroit Free-Press and Entertainment Weekly as one of America's wisest, wittiest and most wicked writers, and the worthy successor to David Sedaris. For more, please visit www.waderouse.com or www.wadeswriters.com.