Sheet cake and handshakes; it’s grad party season

PHOTO: Michelle Bradley, Flickr CC-BY

Is there anything quite like an American graduation party? A funeral, I suppose, but that hardly seems appropriate. After all, in one the subject ascends to bigger and better things. In the other, people ask, “What are your college plans?” over and over again.

Like funerals, grad parties include elaborate photo displays, awkward mingling and certain creamy salads only made to be eaten by other people. Unlike funerals, recipients spend most of the money in the cards on an old car. 

Our son Henry’s graduation party is coming up next week. We’re very proud of the boy and are eager to share this joy with our friends and family. Nevertheless, my wife lies awake at night terrified of running out of pulled pork. By morning, she’s horrified by the thought that we might have too much pulled pork. 

Area pigs have the most to fear.

The grad party burned considerable energy over the past few months as Christina makes meticulous plans involving themed decorations and sundries. Perhaps not surprisingly, this brought back memories of grad parties from the good old days.

My parents ran a wheelchair transportation company at the time, so I remember driving a 10-foot tall conversion van with a ramp to most of the parties. Nobody gets pregnant in a van like that.

Looking back, I can see my friends shaking hands with their relatives. Or were those my relatives? My mind can’t distinguish which party and which relatives were which.

Once, I attended the party of a girl I liked where I learned that she had, in fact, not broken up with her boyfriend as I had been led to believe. Moments later I spilled punch on her parents’ white carpet. “Cringe” wasn’t part of teen slang then, but I often exemplified the term.

My own graduation party seems a blur. My Grandma Linda took care of most of the details. I recall white frosting on a sheet cake, cloudy skies and aggressive mosquitoes. Tom Rukavina came. He yelled at some people and took a picture with my Grandpa Johnson that grandpa hung on his wall for the rest of his life. I don’t remember their words. Time rendered their voices into bird calls.

One thing still haunts me about my party. Afterward, while opening the cards from the box, I found an envelope addressed to a kid named Charles. It was from two people I didn’t know. These people came to my bash thinking it was Chuck’s soiree, which I later learned happened the same day on the other side of the same park. 

Seeing nobody they knew at my party, including the graduate, these kind people sat and ate a meal before putting their card in the box. No one could remember seeing them. Did they talk to my family? If so, was the conversation so ambiguous that they never realized they were at the wrong party? Or did they realize they were at the wrong party only after placing the card in the box? Did they then flee the scene, wracked with humiliation. 

In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter. Guests exchanged a card with money for a meal of cold cuts, raw vegetables and cake. The transaction was complete, the details unimportant. We did manage to track down Charles to deliver his card. 

My wife and I offered Henry the opportunity to skip doing a party, but he wanted one. He actually likes seeing his family all together. And I suppose gathering to celebrate a kid becoming an adult is a pretty big deal.

Naturally, I hope Henry remembers his graduation party better than I remember mine. Perhaps fate requires that our electric memories of the summer after high school become sepia snapshots in the brain’s attic. At least there will be plenty of food.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, June 3, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.