Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence: What’s in a Smile at Graduation Time?

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I hadn’t seen this smile from my son in a long time…


As you might expect, we don’t dress this formally around the yard most days. It was prom night last Thursday and Aidan and his date Katie had just finished twelfth grade two days earlier. And, aside from the $200+ to rent the tux, we also got this pretty rare expression thrown in with the shiny shoes. In fact, perhaps the last time we’d seen that smile was right before Aidan started his career as a student…


We were heading down to Indianapolis to visit some friends and stopped at a rest stop to find one of those trees that you’ll spend the rest of your life just walking by. I grabbed Aidan and stuck him up in the branches and you’d think he’d just been taken to Disney World.

One of my favorite Mark Twain nuggets is:

“Why is it that we rejoice at a wedding and cry at a funeral? It is because we
are not the person involved.?

I don’t know too many people that would willingly go back through their K-12 years one more time. Even at class reunions when you’re reminded of the not-so-happy days–maybe a classmate who beat you up or a former “true love” whose future seemed so embedded with yours, you get the sour with the sweet. I see my parents’ old house and I see the driveway where we pretended to be Evel Knievel jumping logs with our bikes–but also see the piles of snow I had to shovel.

I took a drive past my grandparents’ house on Littlefield in Detroit and I saw the porch, like so many other porches, where a cap-and-gown photo was framed–like my Uncle Jerry 1951…

Jerry Walsh, 1951, with Cocoa

Jerry Walsh, 1951, with Cocoa

The stonework is still the same around the door. I remember my dad and Jerry looking at this photo and not remembering the graduation at all, but having terribly fond memories of their dog, Cocoa.


All three boys loved to laugh, along with their parents Leon and Laura.

1947 Christmas (Bob, Leon, Laura, Jim, Jerry)

1947 Christmas (Bob, Leon, Laura, Jim, Jerry)

I suspect the picture above was taken right after church, when someone suggested, “Let’s take one while you’re all together and dressed up!” Jerry, the perennial outdoorsman, already has his tie off. My dad was too young to have to wear one. Looking at all five smiles, I suspect that my grandma’s smile is the only genuine one.

Prom pictures and this Friday’s commencement pictures are like the sweet and nearly-sour. Everyone’s all dressed up and you have to do the parade of poses with loved ones and your friends. It’s a very special time but I clearly remember the overall feeling at my graduation ceremony–like my wedding ceremony–was summed upon with one sentence exhibited clearly in my sister Katie’s face as she accepts the roll of paper that represented Clawson’s diploma in 1984: “Please don’t let me trip.”


There’s that nervous smile as you shake hands with a school board president you’ve never met before, then there’s the relieved smile after the ceremony, as seen the other night with Aidan following the awards convocation…


Aidan’s is the smile of, “Wow, I can’t believe this is almost over!” Patrice is smiling at a dear friend who is taking the picture. And I’m just smiling because I’m able to put my arm around my son in public (okay, and a bit proud!).

Take a look at some of those old pictures and see if you can trace a story through those smiles. Are they smiles of joy, nervousness, laughter or just plain old “whew!”?

Drifting back 14 years, Aidan’s pre-school smile couldn’t have been more appropriate as he’s about to willingly launch himself (or be pushed by the innocent-looking girl behind him) down the slide of life.


Read more about Aidan at this link.


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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began MyMediaDiary.com in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 6. Contact him at: kevin@mymediadiary.com He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at www.mmdphotovideo.com which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kwteacher

5 Responses to Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence: What’s in a Smile at Graduation Time?

  1. kt says:

    Congratulations, Aidan!

  2. Sharon says:

    Love the story and pictures Kevin. Next time I will take more time when
    sifting through the smiles of old potos for that wonderful underlying story!

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Thanks, Sharon! With high resolution scanners and Photoshop, it’s amazing what you’ll find lurking in the background of some of these snapshots!

  3. Mary Ellen Maguire says:

    Great story Kevin…love all the photos and memories of your family and coming full circle to Aiden again and his delightful smile. Proud happy moments. Congratulations to you all!

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Thanks, as ever, Mary Ellen! We had a great day and he’s looking forward to college and the great beyond!