Bridge Crossing for Graduates

They say that “April showers bring May flowers.” I don’t know who “they” are, but they probably weren’t immediately concerned with schools. Around here, it’s more like “April precipitation brings May graduation.” And each May, as I watch our communities prepare for their children’s and grandchildren’s commencement to the next big thing in life, I remember my own high school graduation as well as all the lessons learned from the evening that followed.

After dropping our gowns and caps and diplomas and cords and medals and report cards (yes, that long ago) at one or more of our homes, and after a few visits to classmates’ parties, my two best friends and I jumped into an orange and black compact car—an early model Colt or a Corolla, I don’t remember—and departed to finish off the epic day with a late, quiet evening of friendship and reflection. To accomplish this, we drove to a mom-and-pop all-night drive-in for hot, drippy burgers—the kind of burgers that always taste better after midnight. And there’s nothing like that, together with hot fries and cold Coke, on a graduation night to make you wax nostalgic for the olden days—like 10th grade. We talked and laughed and sang so long that my cheeks hurt from being contracted in the happy position for hours.

On the way home early in the morning of a curfewless evening, we came upon the high-rise lift bridge on Highway One in Larose. Readers will know the bridge well, as it overpasses Highway 24, the Bourg-Larose Highway, which connects the two parishes of PoV country. About half-way up the incline of the bridge heading up-the-bayou, and in the middle of the bridge’s 90-degree turn, our early-model compact car showed us just how early a model it was: The engine stopped and the lights went out. And suddenly, there we were: Three innocent honor graduates with promising college careers and newly awarded scholarships alone in the black darkness of early morning in a dead car on a tall bridge in a turn beyond where oncoming cars can’t see on one of those nights when parents wish their kids weren’t on the road.

Now, they say that everything in life is a learning experience. Again, I don’t know who “they” are, but the things my two best friends and I learned that night are good life lessons for all graduates. And so, after I got home that evening, and after many ensuing years of reflection, I offer good pieces of advice to help new graduates out there in PoV country to succeed in life.

(1) Don’t let people or things intimidate you. Have courage. Don’t give up. Don’t turn away. Learn to deal with the situation and solve the problem. It would have been easy for us to panic and give up, especially if cell phones had been invented back then. But, instead, we smartly took matters into our own hands as a matter of urgency. And, in the process, we learned the next lesson.

(2) Embrace Teamwork. We would have never made it home if we stayed in the car and tried to urge it upward by moving back and forth in our seats. We quickly agreed that we would get out and push. And, after all getting outside the car, we reasoned that one of us should get back in the car to shift and steer. It was our cooperation that got us going and got us home.

(3) Don’t be the smartest person in the car. Michael Dell, founder of the famous computer company first said this to his employees (in a room, not a car) to continuously learn from others. If you’re already smartest in a group, you are not likely to learn new things. If we three all knew best what to do in our situation, we’d never have agreed, we’d still be on the bridge 30 years later, and we’d have never made it to college. Instead, we listened and learned as a group.

Some graduates figuratively cross the bridge from high school to college. My best friends and I had to do it in reality. And not inebriation, not incarceration and not injury taught us life-long lessons: Sometimes a bad engine circuit and a good friend or two is all you need. And speaking of those, one friend became my college roommate and the other became my wife. You get to wonder which two of us stayed outside the car to push.