Tonight we watched our older son, Byron, walk across the stage at Cameron Indoor Stadium and pick up his diploma. Actually, his diploma holder. Tomorrow the lucky ones get the diploma to insert.

As with any event during which they read everyone's full name out loud, graduation was long, but relatively eventful. The valedictorian may have tried a little too hard to be funny, but she struck gold twice. For four years we have made fun of the principal's habit of saying "on tomorrow" in his nearly nightly recorded messages. I loved it when she said, "We are graduating on today," and then paused to let it sink in. She also got big applause for pointing out that we live in a society that values test scores over talent.

God got in on the deal too, rattling the old basketball arena's roof with a wicked thunderstorm. As the Js were crossing the stage, the reader paused and an unseen voice said we were under a severe weather alert and must not leave the building. Then he said, "Congratulations and thank you."

Not everyone got to walk. Two of Byron's classmates died before graduation, one in a car wreck and the other from cancer. Each set of parents crossed the stage as their dead child''s name was read. No one, of course, paid attention to Principal Leathers' request to refrain from clapping, shrieking, hooting, hollering and waving flashing lights, but the loudest and purest applause was for those four brave, grieving souls. 

By the time we got through the three Ys and one Z, the rain had stopped and the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. We found Byron, made it to the cars, drove to Chapel Hill and had a great Indian meal at Vimala's, the four of us, sister-in-law Betsy and niece Liza, who walks on Saturday.

Five years ago, Byron was the world's most indifferent soccer player. By ninth grade, he had found his passion. All of his friends were bike racers, many of them several years older. By 16 he was racing with the best guys in the state and sometimes reaching the podium. Then Hannah showed up. He still trained and raced intensely, but suddenly he was hanging out in coffee shops and doing traditional high school things. The group he went to junior prom with was so cute and diverse it could have been a Bennetton ad.

On Sunday we celebrated 18 years since Bebe endured a long labor and I caught Byron as he entered the world. On tonight he graduated from Jordan High. In two months we will send him off to Appalachian State to study environmental sciences. If he sticks with it, in his first two years he will take every science and math course I avoided during years of undergraduate and graduate school.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I made Byron a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every school day. He feeds the dogs every evening, but he never helps with the dishes unless Hannah is eating over. But if it weren't for Spanish, he would have been on the honor roll most semesters, and he got into the honors college at App State. He is smart and funny and good looking, he treats his girlfriend with respect and he is often decent to his younger brother.

We're proud of him, and we're going to miss him. But he won't be that far away.