I attended my niece’s graduation via YouTube this weekend. It’s an upside of COVID. I was able to see her face more clearly than her parents. This is only the second undergraduate graduation I have attended since my own, decades ago. I attended my bonus son’s about 10 years ago or so. It was different because first of all, he was a boy and secondly, we had to deal with the issue of his mother. We never know what she’s going to do. It didn’t impact me on a visceral level. My niece’s graduation hit me in a whole different way.
I have seen her grow up since she was two and a half. Therefore, I had a much longer association with her. I have delighted in seeing her grow and excel. She is truly a remarkable young woman. Quite frankly, I am in awe of her and her accomplishments. However, it brought memories of my college graduation brutally back.
I had had a very hard time at my university. I really didn’t fit in, nor did I want to. I had academic challenges based on significant personal events. I had actually been forced to withdraw due to academic performance but was able to reenroll on a probationary basis. This has made me the maniac I am today about grades. I worked furiously. At that time in my life, I did not see marriage or definitely a wedding as having any place in my future. Therefore, I viewed my graduation as my day. This was going to be the hugest moment in my life. Because of everything that had happened to me academically, I always made carbon copies of my papers and I also demanded receipts for them when I turned them in. My last two papers were with a husband and wife team of professors. It was the last two and I neglected my usual practices. I could see the Dean’s office from my window. This becomes important to little bit later. The university had two ceremonies – one in the morning for everyone and then one in the afternoon for each college where the actual diploma would be received. The morning was glorious. I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I had overcome my obstacles.
In the afternoon, whilst getting into line, I received a tap on the shoulder and was informed that I had not met the requirements for graduation and would walk the ceremony and receive a blank. This was inconceivable to me. Decades later, as I write this, I am on the verge of tears. I have a radiant, joyful smile. I am known for it. My boyfriend saw at once that something was wrong. He crept over to my seat and found out what was happening. He sat at the end of my row. My parents in the audience could not understand why they could not see my smile.
When they reached me at the end of the ceremony and asked what the problem was, I became hysterical. My mother slapped me across the face, told me not to cry in front of people and placed her huge sunglasses over my eyes. My day was totally destroyed. Actually, I had been in therapy(the school gave you 10 free sessions a semester and I had hoarded mine) because I was so consumed with graduating. I discovered once we arrived home that the Dean allegedly had been trying to reach me. This was completely untrue. I also discovered that my two professors had not turned my grades in before they left the country. I cannot make this up. They had returned to Norway and were only accessible by dogsled. I had to recreate both final papers and have them graded by someone else. Memory shields me but I believe the only thing that could be done was to give me a pass and not a grade. I received my diploma in the mail later that summer. My parents being my parents, did not wish to make a fuss and would not consider suing the school. I have survived and overcome except that I am manically obsessed with A’s. Watching the graduation on Saturday brought it all back to me. I wept for my niece and I wept for me. It’s hard to believe that it has stayed with me for so long. It took me forever to be able to stand on campus without shaking or having stress reactions. I can attend reunions now without a lot of pain. I am proud of myself for my resiliency.
Graduation also carries with it the weight of great expectations as well as new possibilities. This can be weighty. At school, the job is simply to get the grades and coincidentally the knowledge. Then life happens and there’s supposed to be a job, no, a career. This is an unknown unless there is a particular affinity for a field such as medicine or law. My degree was in social and behavioral sciences with a concentration in urban anthropology of the Third World. My particular area of concentration was the synchretization of African religious beliefs in the New World. You might say it was my own fault. Surprisingly, in recent years these topics have come to the fore. I always was trendy and before my time. I did learn things I could use. I learned about how people communicated and acted in groups. I learned how to assimilate a vast amount of material in a short amount of time. This has consistently helped me throughout my working life. I also became part of an old boys network. It is old boys because at the time I was there, it was mostly boys. So, that was another unexpected benefit. I do very well in a male environment. I am more comfortable working in a room with all men than I am with women. It has taken me a long time to realize these strengths. I do wonder if my life would have been different had I been able to have that moment of radiant joy.
These thoughts have been on my mind since this weekend and I had begun writing. However, Tuesday changed them in a whole other way. To say I am grief stricken is an understatement. I do not know the words for how I feel. I only know that 19 little children are dead. 19 children have been shot to death at their school. They will never have graduation. The survivors will always have an incomprehensible loss. Their lives will be filled with ghosts. All their possibilities changed in a matter of moments. They will bear the weight forever.
My niece, the graduate, is a teacher. Her life has also inexplicably changed. These murders coming so closely on the heels of her graduation must surely impact her future. We can only imagine and then prefer not to imagine. Her moment of radiant joy will resonate for a long, long time.