The concert hall was almost full, some 1,500 friends and family there to celebrate a passage of sorts . . . 200 students being awarded their degrees in fine arts. It was special before it began, but even more so when the lights dimmed.
Soon a spotlight shone stage right on this young lady and her harp. I’ve never heard a harp solo before, so I was caught off guard . . . everyone was, as a collective lump-in-the-throat made its presence known. We all know the power of music and this was another remarkable example. It was joyous yet calming, spiritual in a way, as if the muses wanted to anoint those brave enough to follow their hearts in the name of art. This is how it seemed as most of the 200 proceeded from the back of the hall down to their position in the front rows.
As I listened and soaked in the sound, I kept my eyes out for my daughter in this march. It wasn’t easy, being over 40 seats away and at the far end of the aisle. I thought I saw her a few times, but no, I hadn’t. So it was a little sad as the last one went by on the far side, knowing that I missed that moment.
As soon as the last student passed, on the closer aisle, some 4 seats away, another procession began. It consisted of the older crew . . . the teachers, special guests, the board of governors and such. They all seemed so tall and stately and formal, and that was all okay. I’m sure glad I paid attention to them. That’s because half way through this entourage there was this tiny, 5-foot tall redhead looking my way, at her family. It was my daughter . . . all grown up. Still, there was her little-girl smile, eyes warmly sparkling in the midst of the formality. As part of her duties as class president She was among these dignitaries as one of her duties as class president. She seemed to know exactly where we would be seated, so she knew where to look, and with that warm smile and the surprise of it all, another lump appeared.
I took my lumps that day. There were several emotional moments, including two honorary degrees given to the families of two students who never made it through the 4-year program. They died part way through. One of the two knew she probably would. She also knew that nothing meant more to her than spending the final time of her life studying art and being surrounded by those who felt as strongly about it all.
There was also the opening prayer, delivered by an elder of the tribe upon whose burial ground the school was built. I can only imagine the mixture of emotion that this elderly lady must have felt. She spoke so well, commenting on the place of art in culture and its relationship to nature. It seemed she had so much more to say, but this was neither the time or place . . . such bravery, restraint, and beautiful humanity. And she spoke tenderly of wishes.
At the end of the ceremony there was a bit of a tribute to native art. A young lady in a traditional native costume did a dance with rings . . . you probably know by now how I have a warm place for circles and their special mysteries, so this was another heartwarming surprise. These rings were like miniature hoola hoops, just big enough to be twirled around the waist. There were thirteen in all, though she started with one. She danced for several minutes, never missing a step as she added ring after ring, flipping them up with her feet. Like a contortionist she magically interlocked three behind her back, and eventually the same around her waist and legs. From there she spread her arms and swayed her body . . . there it was, the image of a bird, and then a few more animals as the performance moved along.
After that the lights came on, and then there was the last part of the ceremony – a standing ovation for the graduates. I was seated beside my younger daughter, some 24 rows up from the stage. I could just see the tip of my graduating daughter’s head in the second row, on the stage. Still, I impulsively blew her a kiss, knowing she would never know. Well, within an instant she blew me a kiss back, and darned if that lump didn’t come back! That’s what I like about all this wonderful art stuff . . . sometimes the love comes in such surprising ways.