The Graduation Caboose

Graduation Caboose 1.jpg

On the way in to campus this morning, a train stopped me at the crossing. It was looonnnnggg, and moving slow. I was running a bit late, but I enjoy watching trains pass, especially when I’m the first truck in line, as I was this morning. I always notice the steady up-and-down movement of the tracks, the timing of the cars clicking by, the rumbling sound. I enjoy the artwork, too, of the tagged cars. The combined sensory experience creates a sort of organic music video, a moment of zen, a meditative invitation.

Eventually, the last car passed. While I waited on the crossing bar to rise, I watched the train disappearing and felt a sense of melancholy. I miss the caboose. The caboose is like the perfect ending to a story, it provides a sense of closure, one that resonates, one that satisfies us. The engine, the cars, the caboose—beginning, middle, end. Neat as Freytag’s story structure model. Not having the caboose is untidy. It feels incomplete as if the story has no resolution.

That our graduation ceremony is tomorrow probably added to my melancholy. The passing of the train, my missing the caboose, became that long line of students who’ll file across stage tomorrow. I know there are students who’ll walk tomorrow that I’ll never see again, just as I know I’ll never see the cars of this particular train again.

As a teacher, different students have different effects on us. A few we wonder how they made it, but for the most part, we’re proud of them all. We remember our frustration, the aggravation they caused, the late assignments, the excuses. We remember how they made us laugh, what they taught us, how they—in an odd way—became ours. They’ve tagged us in some way.

And now another train has passed. Like the artist tagging trains, we’ve left our mark on them, too, and they roll away, carrying that mark who knows where.

As the crossing arm rises, like the turning of the tassel, I get it. It only feels like an ending. I know it’s really a beginning, their beginning. Like the cars of the train, the students will scatter, they’ll go back home, or off to careers, out in the world, another depot, another destination. They go to make their own lives. Lives that are just beginning.

The fall semester will be here in no time, I know that. Another train rolling through the gate that’ll roll out in four (okay, five) years just as it has for as long as I’ve been teaching, for as long as there have been teachers, and graduations.

I know that, but I still miss the caboose.

Kevin Winchester