Just recently I had the great joy of seeing one of my nephews graduate from high school. The ceremony was in his school’s filled-to-capacity football stadium. The long line of almost 400 students stretched out right in front of me as they all made their way to the stage to receive their diplomas. The loud cheers from family and friends in the stands added to the excitement of the evening. The variety of emotions was on display across the many faces that passed by: happy, excited, nervous, trepidatious and ready to start the summer.
I’m not a parent, but I think I was thinking like one. To see the youth on display got me wondering what their futures will hold. Upon my own graduation, I think I was very normal in the sense that I knew I was going to college, and was glad about that, but didn’t know exactly what that was going to mean. During that summer following graduation and before leaving to start school at the University of Georgia in the early fall of 1992, I was working in the produce department of an Ingles grocery store. My boss offered to give me a raise if I would stay working for him and not go away to college. I declined his offer.
After high school I didn’t know the career I’ve now worked in for more than two decades even existed. It’s funny though to think back and realize that from the time I was little all the way through high school and college that I loved having a camera in my hands. Capturing moments visually has been a through-line and a North Star for my entire life.
By seeing all of these freshly minted graduates, I was reminded how much I love the teenage mindset and their belief that anything is possible. Especially when shooting, I sometimes try not to think about all the rules I’ve learned as a professional and just experiment to capture something new. But as an adult, I know that can be really hard. After learning useful rules that you put into practice almost daily, it can be hard to set them aside to think outside of the box. Using such a cliché term like “outside of the box” feels like I’m still following the rules instead of breaking them.
That’s why there are so many songs about that magical era of youth. There are a few songs that came to mind immediately as I was thinking about the topic of high school graduation. As a music fan, I remember wondering why these adult (even if young adult) songwriters seemed to glorify the teenage and/or high school experience. Maybe they understood they would not always be that young, wild and free. Maybe these songs were a way to immortalize that time in their lives. Maybe they were just experimenting and feeling their way into adulthood. Or maybe they just wanted to be rock stars. I know I did.