Smartmom dressed carefully the morning of Teen Spirit’s high school graduation. She put on her Spanks and a pretty blue and black patterned dress paired with a smart J. Crew jacket. She wanted to look just right. Not too middle aged, not too hip.
The Oh So Feisty One wore a dress she’d bought the day before at 4-Play, a stylish dress shop for tweens and teens in Park Slope.
“I bet I’m going to be more dressed up than Teen Spirit,” she told Smartmom, looking absolutely scrumptious in a strappy floral dress.
“It doesn’t matter what he wears,” Smartmom told OSFO. “He’ll be in a cap and gown.”
But Smartmom hoped that Teen Spirit would don one of his grandfather’s ties and a clean white shirt for the occasion. Even Hepcat decided to dress up in one of his Hawaiian shirts that he saves for special occasions.
It was, after all, a very special occasion. So special that the family could barely contain its excitement. There were times when they never thought they’d see this day. Teen Spirit’s high school career wasn’t anxiety-free. There were twists and turns and more cliffhangers than “The Perils of Pauline.”
After all was said and done, Teen Spirit was set to graduate from the Institute for Collaborative Education on June 23 at the Great Hall of Cooper Union — and Smartmom and Hepcat were proud.
When Smartmom got to Cooper Union, she saw ICE principal, John Pettatino.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
Her heart fluttered in panic until she realized that he was joking. He quickly switched gears and gave Smartmom a big, warm hug. He’s big on hugs. In fact, he’s famous for standing in front of ICE on East 16th Street in Manhattan and welcoming the kids every morning.
Smartmom savored the atmosphere of the Great Hall, where Abraham Lincoln addressed a crowd in 1860. Abe Lincoln, Teen Spirit’s graduation — this was a historic place, no doubt about it.
She looked around for both her mother and her stepmother. Smartmom was pleased that two of Teen Spirit’s three grandmothers were able to attend this momentous event. Bro-in-law was also on hand, although Diaper Diva was unable to be there due to a work commitment that she couldn’t get out of.
Smartmom warned her relatives not to expect a typical graduation because ICE is not your typical high school. A progressive school with a creative approach to education, the staff is unusually passionate about and dedicated to its students. And it’s just not your typical “High School Musical” kind of place.
She also warned them that it might be long.
“Bring a book,” she told her mother.
Smartmom was surprised when she heard the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” as the graduating seniors made their way down the aisle. Expecting something a bit more avant-garde, she thought back to her own graduation from Walden, a small private school on the Upper West Side, more than 30 years ago. The 30 seniors in her graduating class walked down the aisle of the gymnasium to a recording of Papa John Creach playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the violin. That version of the song still makes her cry. In lieu of a commencement speaker, she and her fellow students were each allotted one minute to speak their minds.
That’s when Smartmom read from the last page of “The House at Pooh Corner,” the part her Dad loved: “But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”
But Teen Spirit’s school out-Waldened Walden. When it was time to give out the diplomas, ICE teachers spoke about every single student — that’s 50 kids — for three-to-five minutes.
Teen Spirit was lucky that Roy Nathanson, the school’s superlative music teacher, a jazz musician and the founder of the Jazz Passengers, was chosen to speak about him.
“Who the hell did you think they’d get to talk about you?” Nathanson apparently told Teen Spirit after the graduation.
Nathanson talked about Teen Spirit’s strong identity as a singer, songwriter, performer and musician. He called him “a scientist” in the recording studio and said that he “knew more about that stuff than just about anyone in the school.” He was proud that Teen Spirit had met all his graduation requirements and managed to graduate on time. That means that “you have the discipline to keep your car on the road.”
Smartmom got teary. But that’s what’s supposed to happen at your son’s high school graduation, right?
Smartmom watched incredulously as Teen Spirit in his black cap and gown walked across the stage to receive a hug from Principal Pettatino, a yellow rose from the assistant principal and an envelope from the guidance counselor.
After the ceremony, Teen Spirit disappeared for a bit to hang out with some friends. Later, they found him outside. He was already out of his cap and gown and set to begin his life as a high school graduate. And he was wearing a white button-down shirt and a tie. One of his grandfather’s.
It was, indeed, a very special day.