It sounds simple enough, and perhaps boring to those of you who DID NOT graduate at Red Rocks. For those of you who did graduate from Red Rocks, or perhaps even for those who have attended a graduation ceremony there, it is altogether different. Red Rocks is a Denver Park – surrounded by Jefferson County – and therefore most Jefferson County residents pretty much consider it “theirs”. I grew up very close to Red Rocks – in fact, I have even walked from my parents house to the park (not often, it is several miles) and almost everyone I knew growing up graduated there – even if they didn’t go to the same High School as me. All of the area High Schools held their graduations there – unless of course they were rained out (hazard of an outdoor venue). My husband went to the next High School over and they were rained out – they had to graduate in their HS gym in shifts. One of his classmates was the son of the Administrator in charge of graduation when I graduated, perhaps that is what motivated him to tell us – plan to graduate regardless of weather – the only reason we will use our rain location is if the park will not allow us in their parking lots… and it rained on my graduation. NO ONE CARED! Not even my grandmother – it is that special, it is absolutely worth sitting in the rain for. It also rained on my sisters graduation (May is rainy in Colorado – or at least as rainy as it gets here, which isn’t nearly as rainy as other places) – NO ONE CARED! I have sat through several graduations there, most in the evening, most evening ceremonies at least sprinkled. A few in the morning – none of those were anything but gorgeous Colorado Sunshine.
~~Reason Number One to Choose a Different Venue – Rain~~
POPPYCOCK – NO ONE CARES ABOUT A LITTLE RAIN
Red Rocks is a large outdoor venue – it seats 9450 people. When I graduated, and I’m certain I will be corrected on this but… I believe our graduating class was just shy of 400 people – like maybe 385 ish? That leaves a heck of a lot of extra seating for moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc. – and I have heard people say… who wants to graduate in a half-empty stadium… I DO! It rocks, you don’t care, everyone moves sort of down to the front, it is inconsequential that there are empty seats. So what is the difference between 400 and 100 if there are still going to be around 9000 seats available to guests… I say NOT MUCH, when you start rounding it doesn’t amount to much at all. And let me tell you, for those kids that have 1 brother and 2 parents and that’s it – well gee they only need to worry about getting three or four bodies into the ceremony, so a smaller venue where each graduate is only allowed a certain number of tickets doesn’t affect them much – but a kid from a family of nine kids, umpteen bazillion cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc… well we like having all 84 of them turn out and scream and yell and carry on like fools and make a lot of noise for us as we cross the stage. There are no limits on tickets at Red Rocks… which actually makes money for the announcement printers, because kids will send more announcements maybe… hmmm there’s a left handed gift, supporting the economy.
~~Reason Number Two to Choose a Different Venue – Size~~
RUBBISH – IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE IF THE CLASS IS 100 OR 400 YOU STILL ROUND IT OUT TO 9000 EXTRA SEATS
Then of course there is the tradition – and this may be just exactly the point I’m trying to make… it is tradition for my family to graduate there. It is tradition for my husband’s family to graduate there. It is tradition for Jefferson County area schools to graduate there. So… my kids, that are part of my family, part of my husbands family and attend a school that is conceivably walking distance from the park (again, it would take awhile, but it could be done) should by all traditions – graduate there. There is of course this one little issue, since this particular school has existed they have always graduated at a different venue – something about rain and size and now that they have been using this other venue (which is nice, but it’s inside, you have to park downtown, you have to walk in, blah blah blah – no Colorado Sunshine, no perfect acoustics, no unbelievable walk down those stairs in your gown…
~~Reason Number Three to Choose Another Venue – Tradition~~
PSHAW – WHICH TRADITION SHOULD WE HONOR – THE ONE THAT IS LESS THAN 20 YEARS OLD OR THE ONE THAT IS NEARLY FIFTY YEARS OLD?
I am going to attempt to paint a picture for you – and unless you’ve been there you won’t get it – but I will try anyhow.
You have this amazing geographical area – the huge red colored rocks jutting up from the green landscape – perched on the side of the hill – you can see over the rock formations, over the hogback, to the city of Denver rising from the plains. In the morning, things are brightly lit with the morning sun and the air is fresh and cool, on a sunny day the sky here is the most amazing color of blue. In the evening, the sky might be streaked with the beautiful pinks and oranges of the Rocky Mountain Sunset, the rocks and the hogback catching bits of sun while the other lower features begin to fall into the evening shade – the cities lights are beginning to be visible and as the night darkens they become more visible and the geography around casts wonderful shadows. Music plays and the perfect acoustics of the ampitheatre allow you to easily enjoy light conversation with those around you while still others can enjoy the music. People are coming into the ampitheatre, some from the top, walking down the long stairs to find seats, most from the bottom – some up the stairs at stage left, others up the ramp that wraps around the rocks and up the last few stairs at stage right – and a few others… just so everyone is aware, are trickling in from the elevator at stage right – reserved for those who cannot traverse the ramps and stairs. The graduates are nowhere to be seen, but the stage is set with chairs for guest speakers and honored graduates. There are risers for the choir and the orchestra is set – they are usually performing some nice music. At the appointed time the usual Pomp and Circumstance begins to play and you turn behind you to see the wonder of the faculty and graduates – all in their robes, billowing in the breeze, the beautiful background of this very Colorado scenery behind them… making their way down the ampitheatre – I am crying now thinking of how wonderous that scene is to me everytime some special young person makes that walk. The begin taking their seats on the stage and in the first several rows which have been reserved for them. Guests look down at the growing sea of mortarboards and tassels that are filling those seats. The ceremony follows the ordinary course of a graduation, speakers encouraging the new adults on their future paths, some music that inspires an emotional response in the guests and/or graduates, and then of course the part we all wait for the most. The graduates begin to make their way across the stage, shaking the hands of the faculty and guests who are to present them with diplomas, and listening to the amazing cheers of the crowd, congratulating them on their accomplishment and their new life – picture flashes popping to capture the special moment and the special scene.
As a graduate – you generally arrive early, waiting at the top for the ampitheatre to fill with guests, waiting for your chance to be on that stage, that once in a lifetime opportunity to stand where so many of your musical idols have stood, where your brothers and sisters and parents have walked to accept their diplomas… mingling among your friends, hugging friends, promising to keep in touch, taking pictures, planning which parties to attend, (and in our case – because the drinking age was younger then – toasting each other with gusto) – then finding your place in line near those people that you have spent so many different days sitting near because of your alphabetical proximity to each other… a tie that never guarantees friendship, but yet you know that person better than some of the others. The music begins and you wind your way toward the top of the stairs, when you reach your turn to come around the corner and see the ampitheatre stretched out before you, and the anxious faces lining the stairs and looking up from the seats, and you think “holy shit it’s a long way down…” then you take those first steps, unsteady because of emotion (and the aforementioned alcohol), and your stupid awkward high heels that look so great with your dress that no one can see because you are covered in cap and gown. You begin the walk down the steps, which awkwardly are not exactly one step… the width giving you more steady footing than you anticipated, but occasionally requiring that you step twice on a step because your legs just won’t stretch that far for that many stairs. Staring at the body ahead of you, lest you tumble down this huge expanse of stairs, and still looking around for your mom or friends to be at the stairs cheering you on and trying to capture that snapshot that they aren’t supposed to take, that you have been told time and again not to stop on the stairs for. You find yourself at last walking into the row you have been assigned, so anxious for the upcoming ceremony that you can hardly stand to wait for the rest of your fellow graduates to complete their walk down to the bottom. Finally, when all have made their way down both sides of the ampitheatre, the proceedings on the stage begin – and you are deeply moved and touched by the speakers (hopefully) and the music makes you want to hug your friends or tear up or maybe just hope that a beach ball will come your way and you can send it on its way again toward someone else (also forbidden, also always a part of the event). Eventually the time comes when your row stands, your escorts guide the row down behind the last row and you wait to hear your name, you take that walk across that very long expanse of stage, shaking hands, accepting your diploma (or the empty folder) and then shake a few more hands… some may stop to respond to the cheers with a fist in the air or a wave to mom and dad… then back up the other side to a new row and a new seat, waiting again for your friends to complete their walk. At last, everyone has their diplomas, and you all stand… looking out across the beauty of the nature around you, and then, you get to move your tassel. You are now a new kind of adult you haven’t been before – and you get to remember every special moment of it with visions of the spectacle that G-d’s hand has put in this very spot.
Then of course – you party.
One day, after marriage and children, you find yourself in/near Morrison with your kids. You don’t have to point Red Rocks out to them, because they will see it, and they will say “WOW, Mom what’s that?” – and you can say “Oh that’s Red Rocks, that’s where Mommy graduated from High School” and drive them in, through the park, up to the ampitheatre and walk with them from the parking lot into the ampitheatre – and they will gasp – even little kids are amazed at this place – and they will run up and down and they will ask where you sat, and how many stairs are there, and can they graduate there – and then you will have another special memory. And then one day, they will tell their little brothers and sisters, see that place, that’s Red Rocks, Mommy graduated there.
So… if you recall how cool that U2 video is – if you can picture the beauty of a graduation occurring right where Bono stood and sang his heart out – you have a tiny idea. If you have watched a graduation there, you get some of the majesty. And if you graduated there, then remember, those of us who have that memory are tied forever to this wonderful place, and hope for your children they can have that same special memory.
For those of you who graduated in your high school gym, I hope your memories are sweet too… but don’t hold back from absolutely supporting any young persons opportunity to have more than that.