Graduation is a rite of passage… even if you are only topping out of nursery school

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Bailey Cooper/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Bailey Cooper/Alamy

It was a blisteringly hot day when I, my wife and our four-month-old daughter decamped to the nursery’s garden to await the procession. My son had entered with us, but was soon marshalled back inside as we took our seats – my wife and daughter taking a child’s chair that sat about 4in above the ground, while I hunkered down on a low wall that ran along some plant beds. We sat for some minutes, awaiting the unshowy, dignified affair we’d been promised, in which a succession of absurdly cute four-year-olds would pass through a sliding glass door and emerge, triumphantly, as graduates.

Graduation. The logical endpoint of any student’s labours – in my son’s case, two years of finger painting, picture books and tactile play – replicated here in a scaled-down satire of university convocation. I hadn’t been expecting this event before the email arrived a few days previously and I quickly became very excited. I did know nursery graduations existed, from people complaining about them online. Usually the sort of furious, red-faced scolds who’d clearly taken a five-minute break from screaming about pronouns or vegan sausage rolls so they could decry such fanfare as ridiculous or silly. I mean, a graduation ceremony for a dozen four-year-olds is ridiculous and silly, but that’s precisely what’s so wonderful about it.

I don’t want to damage my rep as a hardened cynic, but I happen to think children doing incongruously mundane, adult things is an excellent thing. I consider myself a fairly empathic person, but I cannot imagine the mind of someone who’d take no joy in a group of confused but proud preschoolers, tumbling, in full regalia, through the motions of a graduation ceremony.

We exchanged chat with other parents about the pleasing silliness of it all, confessing mock platitudes of the ‘they’re all grown up’ variety. But at some point my tongue-in-cheek declarations of pride gave way to something like the real thing, and I found myself oddly – perhaps absurdly – moved, as parents giggled and cheered, and children beamed, delighted to receive their certificate once their names were called. It’s fair to say most of the kids were not quite so emotionally invested and quite a few had little idea what was going on. Also, since there were only two sets of robes and hats to hand – expertly swapped between all the kids with military swiftness – there were a few logjams as and when each graduate proved reluctant to part with their new finery, perhaps hoping they’d just been permanently elected a supreme court justice and would get to wear their robes for ever.

No such worry with our son, who refused to wear them or the mortar board outright. Our repeated attempts to get him to try on the single cutest outfit we could possibly imagine were met with sullen, teary refusal, so when he passed through the door to receive his certificate, it was in plainclothes, while holding my hand. Once presented with his paperwork, he beamed regardless, and we laughed at ourselves for taking 400 photos of the occasion. Within minutes we were eating sandwiches and comparing snaps, while the ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2022 got on with some tactile play.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats

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