When Noah Travast stepped onto the platform laid out on the football field of Ellis Valley High School, it was with little surprise that he did not find his older brother among the hundreds of onlookers sitting on the steel bleachers. Noah let the bitterness well up for a moment before taking a deep breath and stepping forward towards the beaming principal and superintendent. About 45 minutes later, he had officially graduated high school.
As he picked up his mortarboard from the ground, he took one last opportunity to scan the audience before they flooded the field to congratulate their fresh graduates. The endeavor was fruitless but, like on the platform, Noah took a deep breath, let it go, and proceeded to mingle with his friends and classmates before his parents got to him.
Predictably, the rest of the day was a blur; he recalled students frantically removing their gowns to offer some relief in the bright sweltering afternoon, weeping friends huddled together, promises to keep in touch, and of course, innumerable photographs. On the last point, he was confident that he’d missed the camera on every attempt.
Slowly the crowd began to thin and Noah watched his classmates walk away with their families to their eagerly-anticipated graduation parties where the rest of their relatives and friends would shower them in praise and presents. He continued to look at them as he fastened his seat-belt and his parents drove out of the school’s parking lot for the last time.
The driveway was empty as the Travasts pulled up in the minivan. This indicated two facts: (1) that there wasn’t a surprise party with previously unseen relatives and (2) Max had not driven back from Providence after all. Noah walked into the quiet house and picked up the mail from the doormat in the anteroom. He leafed through several bills and college brochures before resigning to the fact that Max hadn’t attempted a correspondence in this fashion either. It was getting harder to breath in his problems as the day progressed and Noah found himself with the urge to go into his room and stare at the ceiling from his bed.
Before he could execute his plan, his parents told him to wait in the dining room while they got him a surprise. As he sat at the table, Noah thought back on his earliest memories with Max: how his older brother had been endearingly protective of him and despite being cripplingly shy would speak up on Noah’s behalf, even if it wasn’t necessary. They were inseparable; during the day they’d bike around the neighborhood and at night Max would read comics to him — Noah still couldn’t stand the animated series because they couldn’t get the voices that Max had given each character right.
They’d started to grow apart when Max started high school, and Noah felt himself replaced by the new friends that his brother made, the friends that he’d spend his days talking to, laughing with, crying with, sneaking out at night for. By the time Max had left for college, he’d all but put the family away in a cardboard box — the nights of reading comics had passed.
Mr. and Mrs. Travasts’ surprise for Noah was an 8 inch ice cream cake, the same kind he’d received for his birthday three weeks earlier. Although it wasn’t very original, Noah loved it, he knew that anything his parents gave him was consecrated with nothing but good-intent. The gesture managed to brighten his mood and, after thanking his parents, he went up to his room and opened his laptop.
It was probably the cake that granted Noah the necessary optimism required to look up Max’s blog. The site was rarely updated and Noah had given up trying to discern his brother’s thoughts via the Internet. When he last checked (on his birthday) the last post was still about Max’s “amazingly stimulating time at college” despite the fact that he’d graduated and started work in Rhode Island half a year ago. Yet as the webpage loaded, for the first time all day, Noah was surprised.
“June 25 [the day before Noah’s graduation]
Pomp and Circumstance by Maxwell P. Travast
[Author’s note: I was regrettably unable to attend Noah’s ceremony in part because of work but mostly because I have been a dreadful older brother and could not bear to bring my unworthy face to see him. The following is an imagined recreation.]
Like any in their position, the speakers each drew from their experiences and tried to dispatch one last message to the graduating class. A bystander, I was entitled to the faintest glimpse at these individuals’ personalities, their drives and their motivations. It’d be easy to place a label on their words, to call them cliche, stereotypical, or overly comparative – to a certain degree this was true. But the great thing about public speaking is that it’s the delivery not the content, and I realized, through each of these men and women, the markedly different shades of the preceding years. Rather than belittle the formulaic layout of a decades old ritual, it was nice to appreciate the genuine uniqueness of the ceremony.
The experience also reminded me just how fleeting a moment could really be. Five years is five years, it’s neither long nor short, it’s what you make of it. Today I felt the passage of time as though it were sand sifting through my fingers and was overcome by an urge to share what I’d learned with anybody who’d listen. I wanted to grab somebody and say “you are young, so young. go out there and live your life because nobody else is going to do it for you.”
It’s a corny, overplayed mantra but I’ve always been one for adages. Maybe I’ve grown a tad more skeptical, aware of the world, although I’d like to think that this makes me all the more qualified. I wish I could give more, wish I could convey what I’ve learned since I was sitting anxiously in that foldable white chair five rows from the microphone but the thought of imposing myself to that extent is as futile as it is self-centered.
No more selfishly taking away more from the ceremony than those it was designed for. I’m proud of my brother for all that he’s accomplished and I’m so proud of the way he’s grown into his own person. On the off chance that he ever reads this I hope he knows that I’ve got full faith in him regardless of what others think. And to the rest of the graduating class: congratulations! here’s to the most turbulent, exciting moments of your lives!”
Noah reread the piece several times before closing his laptop. He spent a few moments futilely trying to discern his brother’s motives.
Then, he took in a deep breath.