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05/29/02 12:00AM By David Moats
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We were on our way to freshman orientation, and the car broke down in the Adirondacks somewhere, and a tow truck took us to a little garage in a little Adirondack town. They got us on the road again, but there was still something wrong with the clutch, and we had to find another little garage in another little town before we made it to Ithaca.

It's hard to believe that was four years ago. We got to orientation a little late, but it didn't really matter. Now four years later my son has graduated, and I feel as if I have graduated too.

I suppose most parents feel this way. My son spent four years at Ithaca College, and I spent four years going to Ithaca, getting to know the bagel shops, the diners, the bookstores. I learned all the different ways of traveling across New York. There's the scenic route through the Adirondacks. There's another scenic route through that beautiful rolling farmland. There's the get-there-as-fast-as-you-can route on the Interstates.

I watched my son grow up during those years, and it was almost as big a deal for me as it was for him. I was a spectator at his crew races, howling for Ithaca College along with the other fans who discovered they had a new ready-made loyalty. I watched him as he decided to become an art major and then become an artist.

And suddenly it's all over. It probably doesn't seem so quick to him. But on the day of his graduation, with thousands of us sitting in blizzard-like conditions in the stadium, the graduates marched in, wearing their caps and gowns, and that day with the broken-down car seemed just a minute ago. These milestones mark the passage of time, and so they make us sad. But they bring into focus the lives of the people we love, so they bring us joy.

James Earl Jones was the commencement speaker, and he urged the graduates to "take responsibility." The graduates cheered him before he even spoke because they associated him with one of the great folk villains of their era, Darth Vader. He spoke in those deep, dramatic tones, and he didn't let them down. He closed his speech by saying, "May the force be with you." The kids loved it. The parents loved it.

My son will be leaving Ithaca, which means I won't be traveling that way or stopping in at Collegetown Bagels. It's possible to get sentimental about these things, holding onto photos and souvenirs, but that doesn't keep the past from becoming the past. All we can do is pay attention as these moments go by, just as we did during the final two minutes of those crew races, the boats surging toward the finish line and the crews straining at the oars. Those races exhausted the kids. And the parents loved every minute of it.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
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