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Graduation Day: 1990 v. 2021

It is 1990. I am in a black gown and cap. I am in an unairconditioned gym with a mural of a raider looking thing busting out of it. Just like it is today, my hair has been hot rolled, teased and sprayed to hold it all together. I am all over the place emotionally. I have on ivory colored pantyhose, because to wear black seemed so much like everybody else and I have never enjoyed being like everybody else. I have an acceptance letter to the great Mercer University sitting in my bedroom at home. My daddy’s wallet feels no relief in the fact I am moving from one private school to another. Somebody forgot to give me my honor cords. (I just now yelled out to my fellow employees, “Hey what do you call those cords you put around your graduation gown if you’re smart and all?” Turns out, yes indeed they are honor cords. Just as well I didn’t have one, I’d only trip over it.) I am good enough at an electric typewriter, but I haven’t a clue I am about to never hit the “return” lever again. Turns out, even an Algebra II teacher will round up a grade because I got out of his class with a 69.5. Unlike the surprise of word processors, I pretty much knew I would never again put myself in a position of having to add and multiply letters. I look around. I am one of 72. All the boys around me have hair nowhere near their collar and facial hair hadn’t dared crossed Southland’s threshold in over 30 years. Coach Lloyd had seen to it. There are ferns and only ferns for tonight. It is fern’s job alone to fill in the empty places.

It is 2021. I am in black pants and this weird off the shoulder get-up Amazon delivered just yesterday. I am at a football stadium which calls me back to places in my life I had long ago filed away under “precious.” My hair, as always, is fantastic and flammable. I am all over the place emotionally. My legs are a scary shade of translucent ivory, sun damage is a real thing now, not a concept. I have two diplomas from the great Mercer University hanging on my wall. My daddy’s wallet ran out of breath a long time ago. My honor, although I’ve been known to trip on it because it is hanging low, has never left me bare.  I am soaking up a story I will later peck out in “Times New Roman” for the local paper. Turns out I love letters and the words they form, but I have not attempted to add them together in 31 years. I look around. I am one there to watch 39. None of the gentlemen need haircuts or shaves. Coach Lloyd hasn’t taught a government class in decades, and the nation feels that loss daily. There are no empty spaces, ferns have long proven themselves the one and only organism which can stand up under such a day as today.

A young man takes the podium. He is the son of Ray. Thirty years ago, Ray sat in a Southland owned chair waiting for his diploma.  The young man, Nathan, welcomes me as alumni, and in doing so, welcomes his dad Ray back to a launching place. I am sure Ray had long left planet Earth in his remembering, but it was only upon Nathan’s invitation I took to time travel. I really can’t remember the Tracy of 1990. I know she was hopeful. I know she was kind. I know she already dreamed of being a therapist. I know she was smart enough to wonder.  I know she was stupid enough to believe a day would come when she wondered no longer. I also know Tracy of 1990 would be standing back on this hallowed ground in 2021, ever Raider Proud. I went into my nearly 50-year-old mind and developed advice for Tracy of 1990. At first my wisdom was large and complicated, then I remembered large and complicated really didn’t serve me well, so I offered up small little bites.

I would tell Tracy of 1990, try as you might, you never are getting an A out of Dr. Shurden. Try anyway, he is going to give you far more than any 4.0 will bring. Wear the sunscreen girl, your peaches and cream complexion is to be treasured. Never, ever give up seeking out the weirdos, those are your people. Baby girl, you’ll do the right thing. That’s not hard. What is going to be hard is figuring out what the right thing is. Some day your prince will come. But he is painfully, painfully slow. Take the mental health day, Lord knows you deserve it. Don’t be ashamed of the tears, you need not hide in the shower to shed them. There is always someone who knows how to handle them. Never, ever stifle your big laugh—live fully into it. Sometimes the trash won’t get taken out. The truck comes again next week, it’s no big whoop. Make the bed. For some reason, when the bed is made, everything can be falling apart, and it won’t hurt as much. Speaking of beds, just know napping is going to be one of your favorite pastimes, embrace it, you were never much of a hiker anyway. Every single time you get the chance, take a big whiff of the fresh laundry, it is the smell of accomplishment. Sometimes you will take career detours. Look at it like getting to taste lots of flavors at Baskin Robbins. You don’t have to sell out to mint chocolate chip. Invest in good stationery, it literally carries your name. China will break, jewels will be lost, money will be stolen, cars will be dinged, and stuff will be stuff. Don’t invest much time into mourning the stuff, you got living to do. Folks can be nasty, there is usually a good reason why. Not everybody is going to like you, that just means you’re living right. Home never has a mailing address. Home is your heart, get the most hospitable one, the most luxurious one, the most spacious one. Anything less is too expensive.  Stop right now with the overthinking, it only hurts you. Wisdom is simple, always it is simple. Sometimes there is so much, sometimes there is so little, but always there is enough. You are going to be ferociously loyal and have an incredible ability to step into another’s shoes. It is going to break your heart and be your greatest joy. You will consider changing those things about yourself. Go take a nap instead, you’re exhausted. Take the next step, it doesn’t feel like it, but you’ll have all the courage you need. Finally, when you’re looking 50 dead in the eye, you’ll know all the advice in the world comes down to what has been told you since you first started living in your skin. Say your prayers, precious one, say your prayers.