Riley made this paper flower lei, put it around my neck, and said, “Auntie Ashley I made this fo’ you. It says Wuv Riley.”
It’s that time again when the world gets filled with graduation gowns, decorated caps, flower leis, and family photos. Graduations in Hawai’i (especially high school graduations) can only be described like a Black Friday event, but instead of fighting your way through crowds for another piece of technology you don’t need, you get stuck in what feels like an escape room while you look for your friend’s 10-foot banner decorated with their name, senior portrait, and a throwback baby picture. Flower leis are the default gifts you share with the graduates, which have slowly evolved over the years. I’ve seen gifts like pool floaties signed by all your friends, Burger King crowns, a bag of chips with a string attached to wear as a necklace, tighty whities used as beanies, and a toilet seat. Yes. A straight up toilet seat. It didn’t matter though. What mattered were the people who took the time to celebrate your accomplishments and where dinner was going to be held afterward because you knew that the restaurants nearby would be packed with a two-hour wait and that all your balloons and leis took up two cars.
My favorite part of all three of my commencements was seeing my family in stands cheering for me. I couldn’t hear anything they shouted because no one can compete with that family blowing their air horns, but I didn’t care. I’m very familiar with having my family in audience through many dance performances, however, walking across the stage with my degree in hand and seeing my parents’ keeping-it-together facial expressions is a timeless moment that made it all worth while.
Class of 2016, soak in the significance of this time, turn your tassel even if you don’t know the reason behind that ritual, and try not to hit anyone as you throw your cap in the air.
I can confidently say that I am not an easy crier compared to my mom and my sister. It’s not excessive or anything. They cried during occasions that any other person would. Weddings, funerals, high school graduation, when our pets passed away, dance performances (cough Ang cough), when Macaulay Culkin died in My Girl, father-daughter dances, when I fell with the shopping cart at Star Market, and my college graduations. You know? Normal stuff.
Dropping me off at the airport is a pretty hard moment for them. It always has been ever since 2005 when I started college. I don’t blame them. It’s hard on my heart as well. I usually hug my mom and sister while reassuring them that I’ll take care of myself and that I’ll see them again soon. My mom tears on the spot. My sister waits until she’s in the car. My tears don’t come out until the plane departs. Where my family can’t see me. Where no one knows me. Where I can secretly tuck away this sad moment of acceptance.
When I cry my family reacts like all the time in the world stopped and that they only had a short window to witness this moment. It’s nothing miraculous. I’m a pretty ugly crier, but they soak in the moment anyway as if they saw Halley’s Comet.
Recently the tables have turned. I’m currently treading in this puddle of exploration and my mom and my sister have been my rock through it all. I’ve been vulnerable, frustrated, blunt, and appreciative all at the same time and they have expressed nothing less than love, encouragement, and positivity in every phone conversation and text message.
Mom and Ang, you both are extraordinary. A lot of who I am and everything I achieved is because of you. Love, Ash/Leng/Bat-tit