Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 28, 2006


Graduation from high school a significant milestone


      High school graduation exercises are almost as American as apple pie. So the month of May often includes at least one such night for large families like ours.

          This year it was grandson Joseph Daniel Albritton’s turn. On a sultry Friday night Joseph strolled down the aisle of a small Baptist church, leading 13 other graduates into the choir loft. The choice of music – the “Pomp and Circumstance March” – was no surprise. No graduation these days would be complete without it.

          I wondered why this music is synonymous with American graduations. Having no knowledge of the music’s origin, I inquired about it with my chief consultant, Doctor Google. As most music buffs know, the march was composed by Edward Elgar around the turn of the 20th Century. At the time Elgar was England’s foremost musician.

          The title of the march was taken from Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Act III.  First performed in 1901, “Pomp and Circumstance” was an immediate success; the audience’s applause prompted two encores. A year later the tune was modified for the “Land of Hope and Glory” part of the “Coronation Ode” prepared for King Edward VII.

          But how did the popular English music cross the Atlantic and quickly become “the graduation song” in the United States? Yale University is responsible. In 1905 the college conferred an honorary Doctorate of Music upon Elgar. To further honor him, Yale had the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and other musicians perform parts of Elgar’s oratorio “The Light of Life.” As the graduates marched out, the “Pomp and Circumstance” March was played, and the rest is history.

          So much for the march; now back to Joseph. Now 18, Joseph has become a good student and a fine athlete. He was named the Most Valuable Offensive Player of his basketball team and recognized also for his stellar performance as the place kicker of his football team. He is the oldest child of our son Tim and his wife Karen. Joseph has two lovely sisters, Hannah and Sarah.

          Joseph knows that we attended his graduation not for the excitement but because we are proud of him. Pride prompts grandparents and other family members go to these exercises while the general public stays away in droves.  However, those who go are always praying the same prayer – “Lord, please don’t let this thing last two hours!” We ask for mercy because we have all been to graduations that lasted two hours in a hot, bug-infested stadium.

          All high school graduations seem plagued by the same problems. At least one microphone never works. The leaders get confused about what is next on the program. (This we can excuse since they do this kind of thing only once a year.) Then, as the diplomas are handed out, unseemly screaming fills the air as some family and friends flaunt pleas for dignity and enjoy sounding like rednecks for the moment. But that is graduation southern style. Most of us smile and accept it like the fleas that come with that dog.

          Joseph’s graduation will be remembered for one faux pas that I had never witnessed at one of these exercises before. But let me put it in context.

          For some strange reason there are never enough college representatives available to present awards at the various high schools. So the person presenting scholarship awards may have to rush from one school to another on the same night. Sure enough, midway through Joseph’s program, a woman went forward, put her notes down on the podium, and made a brief speech as she offered the Valedictorian his award. Then she retrieved her notes and rushed from the building on her way to another high school.

          Moments later it was discovered that in picking up her own notes, the presenter had inadvertently also taken with her the Valedictorian’s speech.

His address was next on the program. The young man, Jeffrey Alan Davis, remained in his seat while the principal asked someone to rush out into the parking lot to stop the woman leaving.

          The audience, and the Valedictorian, waited in amused silence until word came that the woman and the speech were gone “without a trace.” The principal turned to the young man as though to say, “Son, the ball is in your court.”

          To his credit, and to the applause of the audience, Jeffrey Davis stepped up to the podium. He made a valiant try to recall what he had written out to say and for the most part did it well from memory. His brief remarks won a sympathetic and enthusiastic response from his audience.

We all left wondering when the college rep discovered the dilemma she had created and if she laughed as we did about the incident.

          One final note. While we were proud of our grandson, and glad to celebrate this milestone achievement in his life, we rejoiced also that our prayer was answered. The graduation lasted less than an hour. This confirmed our conclusion that the leaders and teachers at Victory Baptist School in Millbrook are not only fine people, they are also smart.

          I hope we can return in two years for Hannah’s graduation. And whatever mistakes may occur then, I would bet money that nobody from a local college will have a chance to drive off with the Valedictorian’s speech in hand. + + + +