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Pomp and Circumstance

Hackie

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Some things require a full week. Like when God decided to create the world. No way that gets done in just a day or two. Rushing the thing, He or She might have forgotten the amphibians, or light.

Much like God, the University of Vermont administrators have understood that their graduating seniors need a similar stretch of time - a sanctioned interregnum, if you will - in which to process the delicate, often painful and always unnerving transition from student to civilian life. When you consider that most of these young men and women have been attending one school or another continuously since they were 6, an official period of decommissioning makes a lot of sense.

Hence, "Senior Week" - the seven days bracketed by final exams and graduation day. Amidst the array of frivolous scheduled events - bowling night, ferry cruises, drive-in movies - Senior Week is an opportunity for serious reflection about the major stuff, such as career and relationships. Essentially, it's all about the Big F: the Future.

I've been a cabbie witness to this process for more than 25 years.

Midweek found me taxiing a grad to his apartment on Chase Street. Most of the student housing areas are closer to campus, but Chase Street is a one-block hub of student life abutting the Winooski border. As we cleared the downtown lights, I could see my passenger was upset, fuming over something. I asked him what was going on. More precisely, I asked, "What's up?" This way he could just what's-up me back, or really answer if he was so inclined.

"Oh, it's this girl. She was, like, gonna come back to the apartment with me, but I guess she hooked up with some random guy."

That's not good, I thought. I said, "We're talking about your girlfriend here?"

"Nope - she's, like, my good friend. We've been hanging out since we were freshmen. We met in friggin' orientation, dude. This just pisses me off. What should I do?"

"Um, this is just your 'friend,' you say?"

"Oh, I know," he says, pulling out his cellphone. "I'll text her, something like, 'Thanks, babe.'"

I watched him in the rearview as he tapped out the message on the tiny keyboard. Having never texted anyone in my entire life, all I could think of was how oddly anachronistic this newest avenue of communication struck me. I mean, why not simply resurrect the telegraph?

In the next moment, he received a text message back from her, and read it out loud to me: "Thanks? What?"

I said, "Sounds like she didn't get your sarcasm, man," but even as that tidbit left my mouth, I wanted to take it back. My scoffing tone was the last thing this hurting young man needed.

Passing the Ethan Allen graveyard monument (where our number-one Green Mountain Revolutionary War hero either is or is not buried, depending on which historian you ask), it looked like my customer was about to break down in tears or explode in frustration. In any event, he was clearly disconsolate. I got the feeling his pas de deux with this young woman had been going on since freshman year. As we eased to a stop at his place, I decided to lay it on the line. Pivoting in my seat to face him, I said, "Listen, man, you're graduating, right?"

"Yeah," he said, "on Sunday."

A deer-in-headlights look rippled across his face as that reality sunk in. He dropped his forehead onto his palm and muttered, "Holy crap."

"College is over, dude. Now's the time to move on, venture forth and all that."

"Yeah, tell me something I don't know."

Now he was sounding a bit testy, but I knew it wasn't me - his random cabdriver teeming with gratuitous advice. College graduation is one of those eruptive life passages, like divorce, a death or a major geographical move, where a person is forced to examine and reevaluate his or her sense of self. Relationships - their value and meaning - are a big part of that precious inventory.

"OK, this is the deal. You gotta let this girl go. She's been stringing you along for four years, am I right? Who doesn't want an admirer standing on the sidelines, always there for you, always wanting you?"

"You're absolutely right, dude," he conceded, nearly bowling me over with his abrupt change of tune. "My boys have been telling me this for years, but you know how it is."

"I do know how it is, man - I do. But it's like ripping off a Band-Aid. It'll hurt like hell for a minute, but then you get to heal and move on. Anyway, it turns out that a real relationship is a lot more fun than a fantasy one."

"Thanks, dude," he said, paying me the fare and walking up to his apartment.

Ah, Senior Week, I mused as I hustled back downtown in search of my next graduate. School days are over: Welcome to the rest of your life.

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