A Grandmother on Graduation Day

My grandmother spent my college graduation weekend in a wheelchair, wrapped in a blue knit blanket. Her legs were too weak to do the walking between senior dinners and baccalaureate services, and her Southern blood had never quite gotten used to the New England climate, even during those gray, warmish months we like to call spring.

She was so proud of me. In her apartment back in Boston she had a folder of information from my college, which she would pull out every time she had a visitor. “It’s the number one school in the country,” she would say, even though it wasn’t. “Christina has gotten all As,” even though I hadn’t. When I gently tried to correct her she would look at me, shocked. “That’s what you told me,” she would say. Eventually I let her tell the stories she had created.

The stories were partially true. My school was a highly ranked liberal arts college, and I had done well there. My experience, however, had been difficult, and during the four years I was in school I often felt like an outsider. My family struggled to pay my tuition bill even with all of my grants and loans and scholarships, whereas many of my classmates had never worried about money. I went to a large, urban, diverse high school, whereas many of my classmates had little experience with cities and the very different kinds of people who lived there. Loud parties scared me to death but the social scene at my rural college thrived on them. Fellow students challenged my long held beliefs about my Christian faith, and pushed back against the convictions I was forming about society and abuses of power and privilege. I loved my work and my professors, but everyday I felt like I was fighting. On graduation day, I was exhausted.

My grandmother knew none of that. She sat beaming in the wheelchair row waiting for me to pass by in my cap and gown. She said she could see me during the ceremony, listening closely to our speaker. In truth, I didn’t hear a word. I was imagining myself in my car, stuff packed, windows down, driving back home to Boston.

Four hours later, that’s where I was, my car stuffed, trunk tied together with kite string. My grandmother had headed back with my parents, leaving me to finish my packing and say my last goodbys. Before I got into my car, I took one last look at the campus, fully ready to say goodbye, grateful for what I had learned, proud that what hadn’t killed me had made me stronger. Settling into the driver’s seat, I slammed the door, stuck a cassette in my tape deck and turned the volume up high. I pulled out onto the main road, and the Counting Crows wailed through my speakers, a song I had picked specifically for this moment: “I’ve been bumming around this town for way way way too long.”