Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Habits of the heart

The cover Liam designed for the commencement program; the university president
Just 93 steps into the journey, unexpected and wonderful news erupted.

"By the way, somewhere in the midst of the communication and education crowd is Liam Lewis Turner," said President Paul Zingg. "Liam, can you wave?"

Just before walking behind the stage, I saw our son rise from the sea of Chico State graduates in black and red and blue. "Liam designed our (commencement) program," said Zingg. "Absolutely beautiful piece of graphic work."

Besides designing the interior pages, Liam had created for the cover a word collage in the shape of Chico's Hooker Oak, once considered the world's largest live oak, fallen long before these college students were born (36 years to the day, Liam said, that the design was approved). He filled the art with the names of landmarks and community charms to which the graduates could relate, the names of places that Liam knows and loves. 

Liam clamped a hand over his mortarboard in the breeze. He had painted a Lorax-y character on the top, complete with plastic goggle eyes, and the notation "98.75%."

("Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed!" wrote Dr. Seuss in Oh, the Places You'll Go! "98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed!")

Just beneath the front corner of his mortarboard he painted "42:" The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, according to Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

His was the only student's name the president singled out in his opening remarks.

I texted Nancy: "How about that?"

I was walking — walking because I was too antsy, walking because the press of proud humanity would have forced me to kneel against a barricade for the three-hour ceremony. I recommend walking for parents of future graduates; use social media to organize an impromptu walking club (ask your child how); circle the stadium track together; you'll hear everything, see what others will miss, and you'll greet your graduate afterward energized and relaxed.

Three miles later, an announcer called his name again, one of the few times his full name would ring out in public: William (after my dad) Lewis (after Nancy's dad and her family) Turner.

Magna cum laude. In the top 3 percent of his graduating class. Not bad.

Our son wrung all he could from college.

Every drop of sweat: Hero sweat, flop sweat and the sweat of honest work and play …

… every source of inspiration … every opportunity … every way to fail and try and succeed …

… every drop of the finest whisky the young aficionado could afford on his college-kid part-time income … every drop of the beer he brewed a couple of times with his roommates …

Every raindrop on bicycle rides across campus, precious projects facing ruin … every teardrop, I'm sure … every drop of blood, too, I imagine, though he didn't share that.

This is his last week in his college town — days starkly without obligation or appointments. He punctuated the last few weeks with the bittersweet process of letting go, posting photos and reminiscences and finalities. The last time at the desk of his on-campus job … the last time he'd walk this path to class. Last goodbyes to friends.

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in graphic design and a minor in photography, in an honors program. As art director of the student newspaper, he redesigned the whole thing while maintaining its reputation for national design recognition.

"Pride" isn't really the word for how I feel. "Wonder" works better. I love this kid and nurtured him, and provided logistical support, but the result of his learning and trying and failing and succeeding, the result of his thinking and ideas, is something novel and deep and outside of my understanding.

(Yep, this is a brag on our son. Our daughter, on her own path and triumphs and tribulations and world experiences in college, will get her time soon in this blog.)

Chico State promotes "Today decides tomorrow" as its slogan, and Liam seemed to take it as a challenge. I wonder at his desire to learn for learning's sake, his wanting to know, his willingness to use what he knows how as a lever to get him to what he doesn't know. I wonder at his dissatisfaction with his work, his wanting to do better.

President Zingg called these "habits of the heart."

I still wonder at the holiday break during which, inspired by a media consultant's challenge, he made radical departures in the school paper's design, devising new page grids and a nameplate, then returned to school and trained the design staff to use the new rules.

"I'm really going to miss this place," he said over the weekend. He's so very tired; (I think immediately, on this Memorial Day weekend, of many who sacrificed so he could have the chance to be so tired.)

Our college endings were so different. I stayed past four years, probably to complete credits, but my momentum had wobbled to inertia. Friends had left on their own paths; lodging, though sunlit and quiet, was temporary. I felt I had overstayed.

Liam stayed one more year, but for more opportunities, pursuing a minor, applying his graphic design skills to a job, taking classes he couldn't fit into four years. Enjoying life's rich pageant.

His leaving rips up roots planted deep. Leaving is hard for him; I needed to blow town.

I was marrying soon after school, a choice I made with all my heart, but a choice that influenced my path. Get a job and start a life together; figure out the rest as we go along.

Liam is not making that choice, at least not yet. He wants to save and travel, and has landed a job already that may enable him to do so. 

Six and one-eighth miles of walking later, the last graduate's name was called. We collected Liam and copies of the commencement program, and joined him in celebration over the weekend.

Ars probat artificem is Chico State's official motto. "Art is test of the artisan."

Liam soon starts over. New town, new life, still nurturing the roots of the life he left; new pursuit of the arts that will test him.

Today decides tomorrow.

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