Polliwogs dart in the reflecting pool like animated apostrophes, their slender tails whipping water, propelling bulbous black heads. Within a few weeks, they will sprout legs and become tadpoles, then absorb their tails to grow into froglets, and, finally, full-fledged frogs.
I watch them zig-zag in their search for algae, blissful, I imagine, ignored by the goldfish who share the pool and travel in schools. A red-winged blackbird lands at the water’s edge and splashes, cleansing its wings, then flies to a nearby tree to dry in the sun. A boy skips rocks across the water, but the polliwogs seem undisturbed, flitting beneath mirrored clouds.
Al and I are sitting by the pool on Sunday afternoon, waiting for Emily, who is waiting for the residents of her dorm to pack up all their belongings and leave campus. This is her final resident adviser responsibility on the very last day of her senior year of college. This time yesterday, she graduated, walking proudly in black cap and gown with her classmates up the hill, in the welcomed sun, following the path to the huge, white commencement tent—a tent as large, one parent quipped, as an airplane hanger.
I study the pool’s inhabitants and replay Saturday’s ceremony. The class of 2014 leaves this bucolic campus for a troubled world. The Commencement Speaker urges graduates to employ their proven imagination to help solve the seemingly intractable conflicts and challenges facing our nation and planet. The College President provides the context: This August marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. So much progress, so much bloodshed, so much discovery and retrenchment in the century that has followed. Creativity, optimism in defiance of cynicism, the power of the individual to make a difference, reasoned debate to resolve conflict, empathy for the other rather than obsession with material success—these are the values he charges the graduates to take with them.
The greatest ovation comes for a tall man who walks jauntily across the dais after receiving his diploma—a former prison inmate who served time earning his bachelor’s from this rigorous college. Recidivism rates for graduates of the college’s prison outreach program are very low, proof of the power of serious education to enable a fresh start, with promise. We all stand, cheer and cheer, our hope for the future renewed.
Hugs, photos, receptions. The sun defies rainy predictions, and the light breeze refreshes. Mindi, our eldest, serves as family photographer and Facebook chronicler, so much more adept than I, and her real-time posts prompt kudos from relatives and friends around the country.
The celebration ends with a barbecue overlooking the Hudson River and spectacular fireworks that echo off hillsides. I have looked forward to this event since Emily first arrived on campus. Her college education, formal and informal, has exceeded all our expectations, and this day is a glorious conclusion.
By the reflecting pool, shadows grow longer, and a breeze stirs the water on a clockwise course. With staccato rhythm, a pond skater on delicate, hinged legs hops across the surface. Polliwogs swim beneath it, oblivious, but when they become frogs, they will consider the insect a delicacy. I marvel at its amazing ability to walk on water. What inventions will someone yet discover, adapting its evolved mastery of surface tension to maneuver in new realms? And what predators will swoop down and gobble up the polliwogs before they are full grown and able to devour the pond skater?
The pool surface ripples from the boy’s skipped stones, briefly shattering the reflection of cumulous clouds above trees in full leaf. Then all is stillness, apparent stillness, though the water is always moving, the goldfish and polliwogs and pond skaters in their endless dance, searching for sustenance.
Emily is home for only a week, than returns to her alma mater for the summer, to help with preparations for the intensive orientation program that will greet the incoming class of 2018 in August. This makes our leave-taking a bit easier. She will deeply miss it here, even as she knows her next move—on to graduate school, to prepare for a career in higher education administration. She has blossomed in so many ways, found her voice, found her direction, made lasting friendships. But new challenges await. The next transition begins.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.