It’s High School graduation time, and what a joy to be remembered by a young person you can’t recall ever meeting. Did she work at that restaurant? Was he the bag-boy of several years back? Well, they remember you, and you remember the “cheap” label stuck on those who honored your graduation with a $5. A $20 is probably the least to give these days and just as probably the current definition of “cheap.” A $50 is likely a safe amount to put in a card, but I’d wager strong that $100 is what’s expected.

Did your era send out grad party invitations offering food and entertainment? As I recall it mine did not. My father would have had a fit over the expense. A few people stopped by the house. As family bar keeper I served a half dozen highballs made to a standard of my own devising. The recipients (except for a persnickety female) approved of my use of ingredients. I was a no-nonsense barkeep appreciated for a keen limit on ice and mix. Why stand duty doing three drinks when one would do? The year before at New Year mother made a special request for a martini. I obliged. She finished that drink in time to reach the floor. It was strange seeing her down there making odd and raucous laugh noises. Though young and inexperienced I formed the strong opinion that adults could at times be difficult to predict. With a dead chicken mother was reliable, a known quantity. With a martini, well, who knew? With “Busha” (my grandmother) there for the event and our Priest stopped by I modified my use of ingredients to a thimbleful of Southern Comfort in a tall glass of ginger ale. I might otherwise have given her another super martini, but father said if I put mother on the floor again I was a dead boy. Rather than spoil my graduation by being killed I cooperated.

The family party angle when I graduated high school must have been fairly loose because a “bunch” of us colluded on an after midnight graduation bash at a cabin. If not entirely equal to having got a piece of paper earlier that day the graduation bash was certainly a significant event in my mind. The “bunch” of us turned out to be three guys, and quite odd a social slowpoke as I was would be in the trio. I’ve no memory of whatever lie I told to get away, but once “Busha” went to bed (early as par for the elderly) my event was over leaving a clear runway for me to sail down. The effort and expectation were far grander than the actuality of drinking tepid beer until 3AM in a several hour test of kidney function. I passed with more or less flying colors I regretted the next day when we took the three hour drive from the Range to the Shore. Highway 1 was quite a snake dance those days. With a queasy stomach the trip was less than a delight. For some reason father chose to remind me of the previous New Year and for some other reason I chose to play dumb. People speak highly of family communication, but at times it is far best to go mute even if the sullen teen version is anything but pleasant at either end.

Progress is change, but not all change is progressive, or so it seems as I look at the recent graduation things I’ve witnessed. You’d think that a half dozen students called up for recognition of certain achievements would step forward looking somewhat better and more adult than the three stooges times two. Casual is nice. It’s a fine thing that people can be relaxed and be themselves. It was nice to see that quite a few of the children had clean feet and that others were boldly self-confident enough to wear their pajamas to a public ceremony. It is possible the value of preserving and honoring self-esteem reaches a useless or dysfunctional limit when slovenly disregard is an acceptable standard. It’s wonderful that a person shows self-confidence. I get that, but in the past eccentric disregard for situational propriety was reserved for those with accomplishment other than a firm grounding in sloppiness.

Is it ironic that a lessening of some convention is called social progress while insistence on other conventions is called the same? Readers from other areas might wonder why an out-of-the-way location such as the North Shore has any “play” in the game. But, being aside or off the main drag is what gives perspective you won’t find in the midst of rush hour on a freeway. I know a good many of my neighbors are essentially isolationist in inclination. I personally find that tendency risks being shortsighted; of possibly waiting too long before taking action. When is the time appropriate for reminiscences and quips about graduation to become harsher questioning of standards? I doubt most especially want contention. We don’t want to fight, but if a graduating class looks and acts an awful lot like the Bozo Brigade you really might wonder to what standard they’d been led.

We should wonder because in small ways and large there is much to question and be concerned about. How did we reach a point where too many see labeling and name calling as an acceptable standard of discourse in a civil society? Fascist and racist are tossed about with the same fervor and same effect as Nazis’ using Jew as a damning epitaph. If the new fascism is found in calling others fascists you might find its roots in the happy-go-lucky of feel good education and wishy-washy standards. The aim should not be to achieve the lowest denominator but, rather, to know and have mastery of the low, high, and middle. In short being a casual slob in political thought doesn’t require much. Being a thoughtful, informed citizen requires more than an ability to call names and proclaim victory in areas one is otherwise ignorant.