High school and college seniors across the country are getting ready for their big day, the day they march down the aisle and collect their diplomas. The memories of that special occasion will stay with those graduates the rest of their lives. My high school graduation was exciting, but what was even more significant to me was the day I graduated from college.
My college graduation day marked a personal victory for me. Thinking back over the long road I traveled from my freshman to my senior year as I walked down to the stage to accept my diploma, I did not realize that day would become, years later, a freeze frame snapshot of a high point in my life. After initially starting college as a scared and confused freshman, I quit school for awhile, drifted into the wrong crowd, got trapped in a bad relationship, and eventually came to the realization I needed to get my life back on track. Returning to academia to earn my degree helped me get back on terra firma, and I gladly worked part time jobs to put myself through school. A downward spiral was transformed into soaring upwards, and the journey ended on a glorious high note.
I had a winter graduation day, so commencement exercises were held indoors on a January day, in Rhode Island . Considering the climate, the weather was surprisingly warm for the dead of winter. My mother flew in from Georgia for the occasion. She disliked coming to Rhode Island , but this marked a red-letter day. The excitement level was high as I divided my time between being with my friends and college buddies, and being with family.
My proud mother had her camera at the ready, and of course she snapped the obligatory photo of me as I passed by her and the other family members in attendance while walking to the stage to receive my hard-earned diploma. But she didn’t stop there. She photographed whatever she could, whether it was one of my professors standing around with a glass of punch, my friends grinning ear-to-ear outside the auditorium, or a general shot of all the graduates congratulating each another.
After the ceremonies concluded, we all agreed to meet at my cousin’s house, for a graduation party. I slipped into the driver’s seat of my old, 1982 four-speed Ford Escort, and proudly draped the tassel from my cap over the rear-view mirror. I rolled out of the parking lot grateful that the old car was reliable that day, running right and not acting up. When we began to arrive at my cousin’s, we all piled into the place. It was a small house to begin with, and as more and more people began to arrive, it became even more crowded. There were aunts, uncles, cousins, college friends, all squeezing in. We were bumping into each other, but we didn’t care. A few graduation gifts materialized, and of course, more picture-taking ensued.
Years later I realized the photos taken were the most important part of the entire day. They provided the most poignant memories for me when I came across them in my photo album, tucked away next to the graduation ceremony program and the newspaper article listing my name as one of the students who graduated on the Dean’s List. By then, life had moved on and much had changed. The beaming kids holding plates of food at the party had grown up, graduated college, gotten jobs, moved away, and gotten married. My favorite aunt, caught in a candid shot hunched over her plate, had passed away, as had a favorite cousin. My uncle had moved to Florida , and my mother was in an assisted living facility. One of my friends had moved to North Dakota , to start a new life.
I gazed at the photos for a long time, drinking in the memories that were just as fresh as when they were created years before. I realized nothing stays the same, at the same time wishing I could somehow go back in time and relive the experience. But college graduations only happen once, and moving forward I will always treasure the bonds that were strengthened and the impact the love and support shown to me by family and friends that day, had on my life.
College graduate students.jpg
A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsburgh University Commencement.
29 April 2007(2007-04-29), 03:04
Grads Absorb the News
Kit from Pittsburgh, USA