Knoxville High holds graduation today at 2 p.m. in the Knoxville Performing Arts Center.

Mrs. Wall was my first real authority figure. A grandmotherly kindergarten teacher, she left little doubt who was leader our squirrelly pack of five-year-olds. Especially at nap time.

That time was sacred to her for reasons that since have become obvious. At the time, we just knew that when she said “Be quiet!” she meant it. And we were.

I never could sleep back then, but oh, what I’d give for a mandated chance to snooze right about now. Many people don’t like being told what to do, but most will abide by rules that make common sense, especially if they’re for the common good.

So we shut our mouths and phones in the theater, for example. It helps us all enjoy what’s on the screen. If the screen bursts out in flames, however, please shout “Fire!” It’s OK. I won’t call the usher on you.

My mind wandered back to kindergarten as I attended a graduation Sunday. An authority figure politely asked the crowd to hold its applause until all the graduates had received their diplomas. And people complied, for a while. Then some chose to whoop or holler for their grads.

No, the world didn’t end, but it spun along more awkwardly. Some grads grinned sheepishly in their diploma photos. A little laughter rippled, mostly the nervous kind. Other folks muttered mildly.

I’d have been mortified under my mortarboard if my mom gave me a shout-out at my graduation. School leaders aren’t seeking conformity, just decorum. Graduations are about as close as our secular society comes to sacred moments. Should people save their woo-hoos and airhorns for the parking lot?

It points toward a need we all have to be heard. Sure, there’s something to celebrate, and some of these blushing grads haven’t spent much time in the spotlight. But does that give their loved ones the right to step outside the lines?

Obviously, there are more important things to shout about, whether you’re a proud parent or a newspaper columnist. But if I felt strongly enough about my kids to unleash a public outburst, I’d probably bite my tongue in the gymnasium, celebrate my child more privately and then maybe ask the school board at its next meeting to loosen up.

I know and cherish many members of the Class of 2018. There’s a lot of good things to shout about. I hope that they’ll use their gifts and raise their voices at the right times over time, whether the theater is on fire or the world seems to be.

Conformity is highly overrated, just as putting the needs of others over your own is undervalued in today’s world. The challenge is finding balance.

If I have any advice for this crop of grads, it’s to rest up and get ready.

Grab a nap while you can.

Lose sleep over things that matter.

And when the time is right, be sure to be heard.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at pfinan@journalexpress.net.

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