I attended my little sister’s college graduation this week—two separate ceremonies at a large urban university. She surprised us, and herself, by graduating with honors in her major, and magna cum laude. She had no idea, in fact, until we saw the symbols next to her name in the commencement program and texted the news to her, where she was outside on the street lining up in her cap and gown. She texted back to me: No way! Then she sent another text: Magna? How? I don’t think she believed it until she saw it on her diploma later that afternoon.
This is a girl who struggled through an intensely difficult year, too personal for me to recount here, who worked full-time doing long shifts as a waitress all throughout school to pay her own expenses. She did this on her own. She worked for it; she was never handed anything. She gets stronger and stronger each year. I am amazed by her. I remember the exact moment she was born—vividly; graphically. I love the person she’s become.
At the first ceremony, we sat in the stands and I saw the speck of her—a tiny dot—far away in her row. I was so proud of her, just filled with love for her, so happy, that the tears started threatening to come. I couldn’t stop them and was annoyed at myself when my teariness happened to coincide with the National Anthem. The photographs of me after this ceremony show a huge smile, my cheeks an astounding pink.
At the second ceremony, featuring her school only, there were still rows and rows (and rows and rows) of students, and we waited at least an hour to hear her name called and see her take her walk across the stage. I barely remember the moment. I know I stood up. I knew we cheered as loudly as we could. I tried to take a photograph, but I was so excited, and we were so far up in the stands, the image is a blur.
All the commencement speeches, so inspirational, reminded me of graduating college—how much I’d loved being in school, loved taking classes, and when it was over how the entire world seemed to be at my fingertips. I was heading straight to grad school in New York City. First, I’d spend the summer in Woodstock working at a jewelry store on the Green (ironically having to remove my nose ring in order to do so), then, after three months, I’d move to my Manhattan apartment. Six months later, I got couples housing and E joined me. I had the most enormous of expectations. Now, while it is true that I don’t remember too much of my own graduation ceremony, as both E and I had gotten quite drunk the night before so someone had to escort, i.e., practically carry, us back to our room (thank you, A) and another someone helped us up in the morning (thank you, P and others), I was taken right back there. We went to a small, odd school that didn’t have caps and gowns. I wore a blue shirt and a black skirt, my favorite colors. We didn’t have grades so I have no idea if I would have had any kind of cum laude tacked on to my name. I don’t recall who the commencement speaker was, though I do remember the same kind of message: You are graduates of [Insert School Here]. You can do anything. Now go out and make the world a better place.
I can’t say I’ve done that. I always meant to—but is it possible to do so as a writer, an artist? I certainly hope so, because that’s what I have to give. I haven’t made it yet, all these years and not yet, but I’m still trying.