Metro, Column

Stealing the Show at Pre-K Graduation

I was generally a good egg in pre-kindergarten. I shared when instructed to do so, I invited girls to play basketball with me, and, on occasion, I consciously made poor lunch food trades so that my classmates could indulge in the creamy delight of the Nutella sandwiches packed into my daily lunchbox.

As the youngest of three brothers, I was no stranger to conflict and pent-up aggression. At the same time, I had a pretty exaggerated sensitivity to confrontation of any type. Once, during Confession at my local Catholic church, I spilled the beans to the priest that I had refused to eat a bagel with cream cheese prepared by my mother that morning.

I really can’t think of anything “bad” I’ve done, but I need to say something. Anything.

I abided by the rules for the most part. Like any boy destined to grow up someday in the not so distant future and enter the real world, I snatched every opportunity I could to milk this ephemeral impunity. Yet, this wasn’t carried out as part of a carefully staged rebellion but rather as an assertion of my own personality. Stubbornness was my particular area of expertise, but to the naked eye one would assume I was harmless.

Plump rosy cheeks and a unibrow that could be traced back to my Armenian heritage shielded the world from my occasional passionate outbursts. A car stereo system was no match for my insatiable desire for Pizza Hut, much to the chagrin of my parents and their fiscal priorities.

This tendency emerged on the day of my pre-kindergarten graduation at a Boston Presbyterian school when I resolved to substitute the typical jacket and tie outfit—a customary sartorial decision—for a loosely-fitting Pittsburgh Steelers football jersey. It was a ridiculous moment to resort to such antics. I frittered away an hour of my mom’s time kicking and screaming in the backseat of the car as my classmates hurriedly rushed by in their formal attire.

I was profoundly confused by this. Why would anyone in the right mind willingly put on itchy and uncomfortable clothing when you could show off your team spirit and reap the benefits of breathable athletic fabric at the same time? Seemed like a touchdown to me.

The image draws back into focus: a quarterback accepting his graduation certificate surrounded by toddlers in crisp navy blazers and snow white dresses wearing faces of incredulity directed at me like heat seeking missiles. At that moment, I certainly wasn’t the poster child for obedience but I never sought to be a rebel. For one, I was a stocky character ill-equipped to outrun authority, and the pockets of my cargo pants overflowed with Snickers and Milky Ways given to me by my teachers. Behind me, my mom and dad were fuming, steam almost bursting out of their ears as they watched their jerseyed son strut across the stage with a stupid, content grin on his face.  

But they raised me better than this. All their sleepless nights, saliva-soaked clothing, and repeated bedtime stories for me to just throw it down the drain without any scruples. Think about what you’ve done.

I did. Quite a lot actually. All I was left with was the feeling that this little stunt would remain stuck in time, an experience that revealed little about my upbringing or the person I am still becoming. I must concede that sports were always a favorite pastime of mine—I often daydreamed that I was the driveway version of Michael Jordan with a chance at a game-winning shot, or Joe Montana heaving the pigskin towards the endzone. Yet beyond that, there was no ulterior motive behind my decision to sport a Pittsburgh Steelers football jersey in lieu of the jacket and tie.

Now you might be thinking, isn’t that exactly what a rebel would say? I assure you that it was merely a symptom of my desire to be, well, me. In my mind, it was only right that I should have the freedom to wear what I wanted—it wasn’t out of a disregard for the rules or school dress code “laws.”

Turns out, I’d go on to wear a jacket and tie every day from middle school all the way through to my high school commencement. My previous comportment might have confirmed the cognitive dissonance inevitably experienced by my parents. I had nothing against rules and structure, but I consistently felt compelled to create my own twist on them. Often times they were innocuous twists, other times they had consequences. Ultimately, isn’t this how we learn best? Perhaps it involves fumbling through the darkness of human experience not as rebels but as fearless explorers. Perhaps it doesn’t, and I’ve only just rationalized my stubbornness and naivete as a 4 year old.

Returning to that hot summer day, me dressed in a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and nobody else dressed in a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, I still find the moment hard to digest. There’s a certain dualism that develops, shaped by the lens through which I choose to parse apart my actions. Yet, if I zoom out and consider my actions in the context of who I am today, a different story emerges. I’m unflaggingly proud of myself for making that decision, perhaps less proud of how I went about doing it.

Definitely a bold move but my parents will forgive me sooner or later. Right?

It was reminder of the freedom of childhood, of our innate desire for modes of self-expression and differentiation. I loved sports at the time and wanted to step into the jerseys of those mortal superheroes. It just felt right but was never intended to be in direct opposition to any codes of conduct. Can I really blame myself for following this intuition? That’s a question I don’t have an answer to yet. On that graduation day, I stuck out like a sore thumb. But it couldn’t have happened in any other way.

I would be remiss if I forgot to thank St. Exupery for helping me navigate the world since my pre-kindergarten graduation. So thank you St. Exupery. “Ce qui est essentiel est invisible aux yeux.” That which is important is invisible to the eyes.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor

April 29, 2018