I looked around and marveled that we were here. The large crowd of parents, brothers and sisters who had come to the auditorium for the ceremony milled around outside in the pleasant weather waiting for the doors to open. Some families had driven quite a distance to be here. Some waited under a large shade tree just a few yards away. Most of us stood on the steps of the auditorium entrance, wanting to be able to get the best seat possible.
I looked at my two children and my husband, who were patiently and anxiously waiting with me to go inside and see our oldest daughter, Christine. We hadn’t seen her for a few weeks. John, her 11-year little brother, wouldn’t admit to missing his big sister, but I could tell how excited he was about today. Elise was only 4 but all I heard on the way here was how she was going to give her “Sissy” a big hug!
The doors opened and the waiting families began moving through the doors, all of us craning our necks for a glimpse of our child.
We found our seats, managing to get close to the stage and on the aisle, so we could slip out and get pictures. The band was playing as we waited, the brass section predominantly featured in most of the musical selections.
A side door opened and our children marched in. When I finally spotted Christine, I couldn’t believe it. When had she grown up on me? This little girl, who I remembered as the 5-year old kid swiping my cookie dough when she thought I wasn’t looking, was suddenly a young woman, who was about to step into the real world and embark on her own life.
I was among those parents who took our cameras over to the group to get a snapshot. As we tried to get their attention, the graduates sat erect and focused, disciplined and in control. It was their day.
The speaker went to the stage and we scurried back to our seats. The speeches were short and the pomp and circumstance began. Our children were being called one by one to the stage. With military precision, the ceremony went off flawlessly.
Two by two, parents slowly approached the stage with cameras in hand to get a close up of their child as they crossed that invisible threshold from child to adult. When we saw Christine ready to walk across the stage, we left Elise with her big brother, and my husband, Phil, and I took our cameras to the front. Phil stood closer to the center of the stage and I positioned myself at the side so I could capture a picture of her as she descended the stairs.
As she marched across the stage, I marveled at the subtle yet very noticeable change in her in just a few short weeks. She wasn’t that little girl I had hugged and waved good-bye to just 6 short weeks before as she began this journey. I could see the confidence in her walk as she marched across the stage. I was so enthralled with watching her that I almost forgot to snap the picture. But we got our pictures and returned to our seats. As I sat down, I tried to blink back the tears but I wasn’t doing a very good job. Suddenly Phil’s arm is in front of me, his handkerchief in his hand. I took it gratefully and return his knowing smile with thanks. Wiping my mom-tears, I welcomed his arm around my shoulder as he gave me a squeeze.
The ceremony concluded and the brass-heavy band played one last tune. The graduates were dismissed and with trained precision, they marched out of the auditorium.
My daughter had done more than graduate. She had just completed her six weeks of basic training.
My daughter was now a member of the United States Army.
Army life is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who are proud, determined and dedicated to the ideals we hold dear.
----David G. White; Deputy Chief, Well-Being Division