A glance is worth a thousand words

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There's nothing like a commencement exercise to remind me of how much I have to learn.

This past weekend, my daughter Kate graduated from Pacific University with a Spanish major and history minor and thousands of dollars in debt. My pride in her is inestimable. She has grown into a remarkable young woman and as much as I would like to take credit, she did all the work and amassed all the student loans.

The future is intimidating for the newly minted Class of 2002: the job market is tight and we're on alert. In spite of the specter of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 -- or maybe because of it -- the traditions of graduation were comforting.

The speakers were brief, exhorting the graduates to make their ways in the world, be grateful for their opportunities and to be ready to give back to the community (and, the university. She's already been dunned by the alumni association). At baccalaureate, someone sang "What I Did for Love," and another young woman read "The Places You Will Go" by Dr. Seuss.

I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad. In fact, it's a lot like her kindergarten graduation."

Only in 1986, she made her mortarboard out of paste and black construction paper and we went out for ice cream afterwards. We spent the summer playing and getting ready for first grade.

In 2002, the ice cream has given way to pizza and beer. She has a week to get ready for a month-long trip to Africa.

I admit I have trouble letting go. When I dropped her off at college, I felt like I was abandoning her at a very exclusive, expensive animal shelter, hoping someone would adopt her soon. I thought her college years passed quickly, try a four-day graduation weekend -- 96 hours -- with my ex-husband, my sister and brother-in-law, my niece and two of Kate's long-lost friends from high school. It was a demanding schedule, but she handled it with grace, doing her best to spend time with friends and family who gathered to celebrate as well as classmates she would not see again for a long time.

I was a bit jealous this weekend having to share her time, but we had plenty of opportunities to throw each other "the look," our favorite wordless way to communicate.

I don't mean the eye-rolling, exasperated-breathing, how-can-you-be-so-dense stare that we've been known to exchange. I mean the gaze that says I'm-here-for-you-no-matter-what.

She inaugurated it at birth. Some may have perceived her first gaze upon us as a frown, but in the instant intuition that comes with motherhood I interpreted it as "What the ...?"

We've developed it over the years and traded it many times, the first day of school, dropping her off at overnight band camp, holding her hand and walking her back to anesthesiology to get her tonsils removed, after I got my first permanent and she told me I looked pretty even though I thought I looked like an aging French poodle, the day I sat on her bed and told her that her father and I were separating.

When I finally caught her attention on Saturday and we exchanged the look, it brought me the same sense of peace it always does. We'll be all right.

Her father and I were fortunate enough to sit a few seats behind her at graduation. I watched her with her classmates, as she moved her tassel from left to right (or is it right to left?), collected her diploma, posed for pictures and did her best to host the family and friends who gathered to share in her accomplishments.

I think it's time to graduate the look, too, from "What the ...?" to "What's next?"

What's next, indeed?

Sheila Gardner is night editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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