I have to admit I'm not big on ceremonies. They mostly bore me, and I must not be very susceptible to the sense of sanctification they bring to life's mileposts for many.
Yesterday, however, my son Zander graduated from high school. Not with particular distinction, I have to admit—he's not naturally a scholar, even though he's bright, even wise, in many ways.
Still, the event was emotional for me. As regular readers might already know, eighteen and a half years ago I brought Zander home for the first time when he was a mere five days old. A tiny, scrunch-faced, wizened little neonate who slept most of the time and cried a lot the rest of the time. Six days earlier, I'd had no idea I was about to become a father—no inkling at all that his mother was pregnant. I learned I'd be getting custody at midnight the night before, and I'd had exactly nine hours—from midnight to nine o'clock in the morning, specifically—to prepare for his arrival. I brought him home in a carseat that I had begged off an Emergency Room nurse at four in the morning, and the supplies I'd hurriedly purchased the night before were sitting in two grocery sacks in the middle of the living room floor. I had never fed a baby, never burped a baby—never even really held a baby longer than a few seconds—and I had never changed a diaper.
All that changed pretty quick. It has been an adventure, brother.
And I remember thinking, in those difficult early days, that if I could just get him safely to his high school graduation, I would have done about the best I could. He'd be a legal adult; I would have done most of what I could do for him by then. He'd be launched—maybe not ideally, but adequately. (When you're a single father, "good enough" is about as good as you can do.) I turned 35 a few weeks after he was born, and I remember thinking, way back then, that I just needed to make it to 54. If I can last till he graduates, then he'll be all right.
Well, we made it, yesterday, Zander and I. And he is all right. He's a great guy—sensible, interesting, quick-witted, and a guy who knows his mind.
So anyway, here's a toast to all the graduates of the spring of 2011—high school (including my nephew, Zander's cousin, David, who is a scholar—he'll be attending the University of Texas at Dallas on a full scholarship), college (including David's big sister Christy, who graduated from Grinnell, which she thoroughly loved, a couple of weeks ago), and graduate school.
So why doesn't this post have an "OT" (off topic) in the title? Well, it's not entirely off topic. You see, the speaker at Christy's graduation, out in Iowa (I didn't attend—long drive from here, plus, see above re ceremonies) was none other than Henry Wilhelm of Wilhelm Imaging Research! Turns out Henry is Grinnell Class of '68.
Charlie, my brother, who took both these photos, said he didn't catch Henry looking up at the audience even once.
Oh, and by the way, there was one fascinating little tidbit in the program—seems Henry was a photographer for the '66 Grinnell Yearbook, "which," the program cryptically relates, "was banned by the college and not published till 1986." You don't have to have your reporter's instincts honed to a razor's edge to guess that there must be a story in there somewhere....
(Thanks to Charlie)
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Timmy: "As read on many online posts on the topic, "The college president at the time, Glenn Leggett, had banned the 1966 yearbook co-edited by Wilhelm because of allegedly libelous photos that today barely seem scandalous. (There was a close-up of a student's hand, for instance, that held a smoldering joint.)" Here's the likely first source.
Mike replies: Good article, Timmy, thanks. I especially like the line, "He does for color images what fuel economy stickers do for automobiles or nutrition labels do for food products."
Featured Comment by Bron Janulis: "Mike, Congratulations to you, Zander and your family! I have some empathy for the sudden arrival of a small child, and considering your circumstances, well, good on you Mike, good on you!"
Mike replies: Bron, yes, you do know. You and your wife are an inspiration too.
Featured Comment by Karl Knize: "I have great empathy for your adventure, Mike, and know how difficult it's been. Your journey and mine have been different, but with some commonality. Sixteen years ago I was married and childless, happily living and working in a little storefront condo that my wife and I had begged, borrowed and stolen to get, when her sister finally careened over the edge from alcohol. We had a choice to make: let her kids go into the Missouri DCFS system, or step up.
"So one day I was childless and the next day I had three, ages five, eight, and 11. My first trip to Costco was a real eye-opener—as was leaving the condo the next week and renting a house. But I got lucky, worked hard, shot way, way more product than I ever intended, and made it to 1995, 10 years, when my wheels came off. The issues under the surface, the chilhood abuse that overtook my sister-in-law had caught up with my wife, and, as with my sister-in-law, the alcohol had taken over. About six months before my wife passed from cirrhosis we got a call from DCFS again, and took in the last of my sister-in-law's children, a baby at the time of the first rescue. And we had had two of our own along the way....
"Now, the oldest works as an administrative assistant to the library commissioner here in Chicago and graduated from DePaul. Also, she was recently the (successful) campaign manager for an alderman. The next oldest,who always struggled in school works in a program at the main library; the next manages a coffee shop and teaches art and dance; the next, the last arrival,works at DQ; and my 13 and 15 year olds, still at home, are A/B students,with my freshman son attending the No. 1 school in the state, North Side Prep.
"Life can certainly throw you some curve balls, can't it? But with me, beyond the crushing pain of losing my wife, watching her fade away, the role I've played and the responsibility have given my life substance that I never imagined. I'm not the photographer I set out to be, and never will get to that place, but I think that the role I've played, as you have, makes being a famous or even well known photographer seem kind of irrelevant.You stepped up to the bar, however imperfectly, and did the hard duty that really counts for something in the end.
"I didn't intend to recount all of this. But I suppose I did because I could see some of your journey in my own.
Mike replies: And to you, Karl, and to you...that is quite an amazing story! And an amazing journey you've been on.