Daughter is to dad as beach is to mountains

Each May, as the families of undergrad seniors come to Philly for their kids’ commencement, we hold a celebration to honor a group of students who have been closely — sometimes very closely — affiliated with the Writers House. This year’s “senior capstone event” honored twelve seniors. We recorded all of these emotional farewells, but there’s one I recommend for starters — that of Anna Levett (in the center of the photo here). She read a poem called “California,” meant to turn the honor around at her father, who was of course sitting in the audience. I’m the dad of a daughter myself, and so I couldn’t help but imagining what such a tribute — more specifically that gracious gesture of redirecting the gratitude — would feel like. Anna’s father, Kit, whom I’ve known a bit for a few years, received the poem as a kind of graduation gift. The poem is in a sense a parallel list of differences between daughter and father (she likes beaches, he mountains) but it’s also about their common home (the California landscape that can encompass both), and so, while the poem was read aloud emotionally on this occasion, its words are not merely sentimental (though they certainly are that): they create or rather maintain a distance between these two people who love each other, revering the distance and making it part of affection.