As I ran into the DARE graduation a few moments late, I could hear the bagpipes. My heart started racing, not because I was late, but because of the sound. Peter has extremely sensitive hearing. A couple of weeks ago he heard the ice cream truck about five minutes before the rest of us did. It had to be blocks away when he told us it was coming. Bagpipes indoors could spell disaster before the graduation even began and Peter was with his mainstream class.
I listened for Peter’s protests, but heard nothing as I slid into the back row of the school cafetorium. There in the first row of DARE graduates was Peter standing a little stiffly and nervously, but not even covering his ears. I caught his eye and waved and he smiled and waved back. Step one of DARE graduation down.
Peter’s aide was in a corner to give Peter cues to stay focused and quiet through the hour-long ceremony. Peter was a bit surprised by the talking car, squirmed from time to time, but otherwise managed to handle the entire event. Then came the big moment of going on stage and receiving his certificate.
I did what I do whenever his sisters perform--I held my breath. He climbed the stairs with his classmates. There was only one student ahead of him for cues. Peter had to walk across the stage; shake the hands of five people (several he did not know) and then receive his certificate from Det. Gabrielson.
Peter hesitated a bit as he went across, gave his left hand for the first couple of shakes, but he was doing it. In front of a couple of hundred people, he was becoming a DARE graduate. When he reached Det. Gabrielson he looked way to the back to me and held his fist in the air while holding up the certificate in the other hand high in the air. Later, his teacher told me, he said, “I graduated.” His smile said it all and parents throughout the room were smiling back with gentle laughs of appreciation for this special moment.
I didn’t hear what Peter said. Maybe it was because I was in the back, maybe it was because I was so choked up. It wasn’t the first time I choked up that week. Earlier, he had written his DARE essay. Charlotte and I asked questions. We kept him on track, but used only his words.
His final paragraph showed he had learned a great deal: “There’s a billion, jillion wonderful ways to say no. I will say no all the time because it’s good to say no. My friends don’t take drugs. DARE makes me feel good because it is a good fifth grade thing to do. Stay away from drugs and alcohol.”
DARE is one of the first rites of passage as students prepare to go to middle school. I have been worried about middle school as much as I worried that morning about the bagpipes. What a relief it was to see Peter taking on this new challenge with a smile rather than covering his ears.