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Graduation Day – Then And Now

Graduation day 1977

The big day was finally here. I was preparing to say goodbye to my high school years and prepare for post-secondary life. All that was left was the big Grad Celebration. Everything was looking great when Graduation Day dawned. The tux was picked up, I had the keys to Dad’s car, and my friends and I were pumped. Then my Dad found the beer…

Graduation Day For Zachary

And the time has come for Zach’s Graduation Day. On a sunny, breezy day in Ladysmith, he joined his friends and fellow finalists for a festive and fashion-filled festival of fantastic fun. Finally! He’s finished! Phew!!

I can’t help but notice how different Graduation Day is today from when I was 17. Granted, that was 46 (yikes!) years ago, so I hope some things have changed. Take the clothes, for example. I don’t think I saw a single powder-blue tux in the entire graduating class of 2023! Weird, right? I mean, back in my day (you knew I was going to say it…), that was the epitome of grad fashion.

Graduation day 1977, a the Airport Hilton. Party on!
My Graduation Ball. How many powder-blue tuxes can you count?

For Zach’s graduation ceremony, I couldn’t believe some of the fashionistas. I mean, how much money did some of these dresses cost? I know Zachary made about six hundred bucks disappear from my credit card, and that was probably pretty conservative. But hey, he looked good!

Graduation Day for Zachary
Proud Mama and the Dapper Dude

Mind you, even though he scraped my credit card clean, he did find his shoes at the local thrift store. And for a positively frugal price of two bucks! He says the thrift store is his new favourite place. Given how much he loves shopping (he doesn’t), that’s quite a statement!

Graduation Day 2023

And so the day began with the graduates entering the outdoor amphitheatre at our local park. The young men and women paraded, one by one, down the steps in their finery. Some were escorted by their dates, or friends, or family members, all while being introduced by the Emcee, one of our local politicians and all-round colourful characters, Duck Paterson.

Duck has been involved with the Town of Ladysmith in so many activities and events. One of his largest contributions is with the town’s annual Festival of Lights. He’s been active with that Show of Shows since 1990!

So the duty of announcing each graduate fell to Duck. Remarkably, he even managed to pronounce Zach’s name correctly. Good on you, Duck!

After the grads were announced and walked into the amphitheatre, a few speeches were made, followed by a group picture. Zachary’s friend’s grandmother had booked a limousine, so six friends piled into it and drove around Ladysmith. They stopped at our house so Zach could grab something he’d forgotten, then they headed off to Dairy Queen. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to Dairy Queen in a limo?

Their dinner and dance was held at the Coast Bastion Hotel in Nanaimo. The party ran from 5:30 and wrapped at 10. One of the students was hosting an afterparty at their family farm afterward. The friends planned on heading there after for a little while, then heading to their friend’s place to finish off the night.

Not A Party Guy

Heather received a text from Zach at 7:30. He asked if we could pick them up. Some of them were bored and wanted to leave. There wasn’t much going on, people were just chatting at their tables, and they weren’t into that. So Heather picked them up around 8 and brought them home. Zach changed out of his fancy duds, his friend picked him up and they headed over to their other friend’s house for the night. And they spent the night around a firepit, talking and laughing.

The main thing for Zachary is spending quality time with his core group of friends. He’s not a party guy, a little introverted, and he enjoys his alone time. So going out to a big shindig with a bunch of people he doesn’t spend time with is not his idea of a fun time.

So for him, leaving the big party at the hotel was no big deal. He and his buddies would rather spend the time with each other and laugh, play games, or talk.

Graduation Day 1977

My graduation was completely different. I know, it was 46 years ago… But some things must have been similar? The problem is, I don’t really remember. I have vague bits and pieces of how the day went. So since my memory is foggy on the events of Grad ’77, I did what I usually do when I need a refresher of my earlier days. I called my sister Debbie. And lo and behold! she was no help. She said, “I was going to ask you the same thing!” Crap!

So here’s what I do know, with bits and pieces added by my less than helpful twin sister.

Our Grad party, or Prom, was held some time in May, about a month before our actual graduation. My sister and I hosted a little dessert party for our close friends, and we took some photos there in our back yard.

After that, we headed over to Deb’s friend Danielle’s house for a “Champagne Social”. I don’t know if that’s really what it was called. Doesn’t matter! We had champagne!

Mmm, Champagne! But was it really? That colour is suspicious…

The Big Party

After Danielle’s shindig, it was time to head to the main party at the Airport Hilton in Dorval. My Dad let me take his car, so I headed back home to pick it up. While I was in the house getting ready to leave, my Dad came back into the house from the garage. He had a stern look on his face.

“Who’s beer is in the trunk”, he asked me suspiciously. Crap! Thinking fast, I said, “That’s Richard’s!” Yep, in a moment of crisis, I threw one of my closest friends under the bus. I’m sorry Richard!

I made up some lame excuse for why I had Richard’s beer in my dad’s car, and, being my dad and not wanting to have to get into a challenging discussion about underage drinking, he told me, “Tell Richard to come get his beer.”

No Time For The Big Talk

That was how my parents dealt with difficult teenage subjects. Avoid at all costs! Moreover, when I got in trouble for something, there was never any kind of discussion about it. No parental teaching moments, no “here’s the consequences of your actions” lectures. In fact, we never had any talks about the dangers of drinking and driving, about how to treat a girl on a date, or about the birds and the bees. Maybe that’s why I thought “penetration” had something to do with French kissing. You know, the tongue penetrating the lips… Isn’t that oral sex? Dad? Mom? Hello…? Thank goodness I had an older brother!

Party At The Cemetery

So anyway… Richard came and picked up the case of 24, and it was off to the dance. The party at the Hilton consisted of a fancy buffet dinner, and the dance. But before all that, there was some kind of a first dance that the parents or families could watch. I don’t think our parents were there, but my sister Debbie was no help in remembering. Looking at the picture from the top of this post, there are definitely parents standing around watching.

And so we danced, we ate, and we probably spiked the punch. But we had a good time, I think. Afterwards, our crew headed into Montreal and up to Mont Royal. This was the place to be on Grad Night. I don’t know why, but it was what you did. So we did. We took our beers, and I have some recollection of passing around a bottle of champagne in the big cemetery. The park on Mont Royal is expansive and mostly open areas. There were blankets laid out everywhere, with couples and small groups of people sitting about and talking, laughing, making out and drinking. We had a great time, I think…

A Memorable Breakfast

Sadly the night was coming to a close, and the sky was lightening. Our next destination was not to bed, but off to our friend Cathy’s place where her Mom was making us breakfast. Nothing like finishing off an epic Graduation Celebration with a hearty, homemade breakfast!

And I’m sure it was delicious and hearty and nutritious, but I don’t remember! Seriously, for somebody who used to take his camera everywhere, I was really failing in my duty to document my life. I was probably afraid I’d lose my camera, so it stayed home. Useless.

My graduation day was different from my son’s. I hung out with more people than Zachary, but that’s partly because my twin sister Debbie and I shared friend groups. Her friends were also my friends, and vice versa. I didn’t particularly enjoy socializing outside of my and my sister’s friends. And I was always more comfortable with my core group of 5 friends. Just like Zach.

Debbie and I spoke at length last night about our grad. She read me some excerpts from our grad yearbook. One of the headings for each grad student’s profile was “Favourite memory”. Many of us had the same memory mentioned; a concert we all went to together in 1976.


Later this morning is Zachary’s commencement ceremony. One hundred and thirty-odd young men and women are going to receive their diploma and head off into the big, wide world. Turns out, I’m not really ready for that to happen. But it’s not really about me, is it?

Zach’s last 3 years of high school have had the most impact on him. I know he’s not ready for that to end, just like me. I get it. Some of my friends moved away soon after graduation. It changes you when your social structure is upended. It’s sad and it feels unfair. Because it’s really hard to see beyond, to look around the corner of your future life.

But it’s all good. At least it will be. Change is a part of life, and how we grow. Wisdom comes from change, not from stagnation. Graduation is growth. Graduating is change.

Zachary has never been comfortable with change. Hell, who is? Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable. And though he may never embrace the changes he’ll experience throughout his life, I think he’ll come to accept them. Yes, he may kick and scream and bitch about it. But he’s a smart guy and he’ll find a way to make it work.

Commencement is, by definition, the beginning of a new phase. It’s the big step into adulthood. By choosing to participate in commencement ceremonies, Zachary is making a commitment to accept the challenge of becoming an adult, with all the messiness and uncertainty that this entails.


When Zach gets called up on that stage to receive his diploma, I’m gonna be crying. Hell, I’m crying just thinking about it! But I’m not going to be sad, or worried. I’m going to be proud. Because he’s choosing to move forward into the unknown, despite his discomfort and fears. He’s making a commitment to himself, and that’s a hell of a thing to be proud of.

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Richard Pennell
Richard Pennell
10 months ago

Mike, once again you threw me under the bus. No wonder your mother hated me. Even when she hadn’t seen me for 20 years (at your wedding), I still got the look. Love the stories you tell however. I am too often the bad guy…..
Who was the handsome guy with the hair behind your date?

Robert Trawick
Robert Trawick
10 months ago

130 graduates- that’s way more than I imagined for Ladysmith. My grad was super cheap in the gym. No drinking. Walked home a couple of blocks as the sun came up. Don’t even remember if we had an assembly. What they failed to tell us back then was: Have a plan, the salad days are over.

10 months ago

Michael as always enjoy your writing. My memories of grad are like yours. A little bit faded. All I know is that back then I 24 of beer and we were good to go. There were no talks about drinking and driving, and the SEX topic was unheard of. Fast forward to my daughters graduation, yes, the dresses cost too much graduating class was bigger than the total number of students that were in the school I went to, and that was K to 12. And unlike me who wanted to stay until the sun came up at the party my daughter was home by 10 o’clock, he did the fact that some of her classmates were already drunk and throwing up. Whether it was 20 years ago, or 40 years ago graduation is still such a special time, the last step of being a teenager with no big responsibilities, and taking that huge step forward into the real world.

Deborah Thompson
Deborah Thompson
10 months ago

It’s amazing how Zach does not take after you! His grad was very different from ours!(at least how much I can remember!)

Heather Trawick
Heather Trawick
10 months ago

Zach did not put $600 on your credit card. It was $452.
With the$2 shoes that brings his ensemble to $454. Still way more expensive than my $75 grad dress but he can wear it again to a job interview or a wedding… or even just to look nice. Ha! Ya right!

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