They danced like no one was watching. With abandon. And exuberance. And energy. And joy. They jumped in unison, put their hands in the air, sang along to the pop music that defines their generation. Like young college students everywhere on the planet. And there was my son in the middle of it all, on the dance floor, celebrating youth with his peers.
It was the New York Institute of Technology's Vocational Independence Program annual alumni/parents/students dinner dance at the Sheraton Long Island last Saturday night. It started at 7:30, and by 10:00, due to some unseen kitchen glitches, dinner still had not been served. Parents and faculty were long past restless, bordering on cranky. The kids didn't care.
From the beginning they crowded the dance floor. The DJ kept asking them to take their seats so the servers could take their dinner orders. Some did, briefly, but couldn't stay seated long. Another of their favorite songs was playing and they jumped up, grabbed their friends and ran back to dance some more. Some couldn’t take the crush of bodies in the center, but boogied on the edges just as happily.
How many of these young people, I wondered, had experienced rejection, bullying even, in their young lives? How many had lived life on the periphery in their high school years? And here they were, dressed to the nines, some of the boys with precariously tied ties, girls in heels they had to kick off to dance, reveling in friendship and music and movement. Or, as my husband observed, "looking like every rural Iowa high school dance I ever went to in the 1970s." Only these kids were less self-conscious.
Dinner came, at last. They ate quickly, and rushed back to the dance floor. Reilly, who would normally be a reluctant dancer, was held captive on the floor by his cute, petite girlfriend, Ashley. Grinning from ear to ear. He was wearing gray dress pants fresh from the dry cleaner, a sage green buttoned-down shirt and a blue and green tie (expertly tied by Olivia, one of the sophomore girls). He looked handsome and, even more amazingly, comfortable in grown-up clothes. He's doing better with his razor. He smelled good. (We won't talk about the state of his dorm room, or the fact that his toothbrush was mysteriously located still in the suitcase he brought back from spring break two weeks ago.)
Dessert was announced and the dance floor emptied. Apparently, Reilly is not alone in his love of chocolate cake. But it didn’t stay empty for long, and soon the music was pulsing, colored lights were flashing, kids were moving. Adults were heading to the door, but the students were going strong. We tracked Reilly down in the middle of the action again to say good night. He would take the bus back to the dorm, while his Dad and I stayed at the hotel. He wouldn’t let us leave, though, until he had introduced us to each of the teachers who were still in the ballroom. They all told us how much they enjoy our son, how well he's doing, how far he's come, how funny he is.
It was music to our ears.