Graduation Day: Pomp & Circumstance, Sheepskin and Tuna Salad

(Originally posted June 10, 2011)

It had been a long time coming…Graduation Day, May 9, 1992! That was the day I received my Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from THE University of Alabama.

As in most states, the state University would have satellite campuses around the state to make it more accommodating for people to attend and attain a chosen degree. Alabama is no different, the main campus in Tuscaloosa (hence, THE) and other campuses in Huntsville and Birmingham. Not to pass over the acclaim and accolades of the satellite campuses, as an Alabama native, getting a degree from THE University, in Tuscaloosa, brings just a bit of extra pride.

Never a fan of the sports from my states Universities, Auburn OR Alabama, I truly became a fan of THE University of Alabama, if only by default. During my tenure there, I even learned the words to THE University of Alabama’s fight song as recounted in an earlier blog post entitled “I’ve got Spirit in my Britches!” So yes, I guess I am an Alabama fan! ROLL TIDE!!

Now, with the requisite allegiances paid, let me share with you the momentous day when my hard earned Masters Degree was bestowed. The moment itself can only be described as anti-climactic at best. Let me just say that it was due to NO fault of my own…and I’m not kidding!!

My final semester at The Capstone (the nickname of THE University of Alabama), was spent student teaching at a wonderful school near Birmingham, so I was not on campus except for the occasional meeting with supervisors. Periodically I would receive information in the mail regarding the official commencement ceremony. Perhaps the oddest thing I received was a small postcard where I was to indicate whether or not I would be attending the commencement. I checked ‘yes’ and dropped it back in the mail as requested.

I thought this odd because why in the world would ANYONE work their tail off for an advanced degree and NOT attend the commencement to note the huge milestone achieved?? Get my diploma through the mail?!? I think NOT… So all my ‘T’s were crossed and my I’s were dotted in anticipation of the big graduation day! Or so I thought…

I was the first in my family to receive a college degree, much less a Master’s degree so this was a BIG deal! Of course my parents were coming, my sister, my Granny, my Aunt Connie, and even my good friends Della and Jimmy from undergraduate days were coming from Florence and Auburn. A big day, OH MY YES!!! I have to admit I was quite proud of my accomplishments as well!!

On graduation day at such a large university, there were two separate events. The first was the grand, huge production at the university Coliseum for EVERYONE receiving a diploma, and then a smaller commencement event for each school where each graduate actually received their diploma. Sigh…. If only it were to be that easy….

After the big cattle call at the Coliseum, it was off to the site for The School of Education’s commencement, the large Recreation Center at the east end of campus. Once inside the building, graduates were directed to the check-in location. I got in line for “Master’s Degree, A-K.” When I reached the table, I gave the lady my name and the searching began. She searched. And searched… My name was nowhere on the list. At least not on the list of those attending the commencement. “We didn’t receive the postcard indicating that you would be here today…” the nice lady said.

WHOA!!! WAIT A MINUTE!! HOLD THE DIPLOMA!!! “I returned that postcard the moment I received it! I have worked my tail off for this! There is no way that I wouldn’t attend this!! I’ve invited everyone on the eastern seaboard here today!!! And they CAME!!!,” I pleaded. “What does this mean?!?”

What it meant was that the one alphabetizing the stacks upon stacks of diplomas did not include mine in the stacks upon stacks of diplomas. The nice lady informed me that my diploma was safe and sound at the Rose Administration Building and I could pick it up there…after graduation. After. After the names were called. After all was said and done at the commencement. After…

There I stood in my cap and gown, family in the audience waiting for the festivities to begin. There I stood BEGGING to be added to the list of those walking across the stage. Paper shuffling ensued and I was assured that my name had been inserted for today’s list of graduates. The best I could hope for was a handshake from the Dean, but he would be handing me nothing but his hand. The diploma was, for the time being anyway, in the Rose Administration Building alphabetized among those slackers hanging out at the beach who could care less if they had a sheepskin in their hand or not.

Following begging, I was in line with my fellow classmates waiting for the regal strains of Pomp and Circumstance to begin.

First, the doctoral students were given their hoods, then it was time for my group, those receiving Master’s degrees. As the line crept forward and names were read, I began to have a sinking feeling. I noticed the list of names that the person was reading from…that was NOT the list from earlier where I saw the lady write my name. Oh this was going to be bad…I could just feel it…

The line crept closer to the point of where my name was to be read. The name was called of the girl standing in front of me and she walked across the stage, shook the hand of the Dean and was handed her diploma. I was next in line. Guess what??

A name was called. It was not mine. The person standing behind me walked around me to receive their diploma. Surely my name would be called next, a minor glitch. Nope, a name was called and ANOTHER person standing behind me walked around to get the expected handshake and diploma.

A NIGHTMARE! THIS WAS A NIGHTMARE COME TO LIFE! The officials on stage began to appear as uncomfortable as me. I began telling my tale of diplomatic woe in hushed tones to the Dean… “They didn’t get my postcard and didn’t think I was coming to graduation, but I was never NOT coming! I promise! They said my diploma is over at Rose Admin!” My eyes HAD to be pleading, “PLEASE RESCUE ME!!!”

I whispered my name, they called my name, I walked across the stage, shook hands and walked off to the applause of the crowd. They probably thought, “Imposter!! Probably cut class one too many days…”

My poor family had to be wondering what in the world happened…and I had to wait for the ENTIRE rest of the college to receive their degrees before I could relay my plight. Sigh…

After it was all over, I couldn’t wait to high tail it over to pick up my diploma! I left my family all huddled in one space while I raced over to the Rose Admin building. I have to admit, though anti-climactic, walking up the steps of the Rose Administration Building alone was an experience within itself. No one was around, it was just me. I opened the big entry door, it echoing into the expansive marbled entry hall. My dress shoes continued the echo as my footsteps walked the path to the Registrar’s office, where I was told my diploma could be found.

Opening the door of what appeared to be an empty office, at least there was a light on behind the glass window where my hopes for receiving my Master’s degree diploma were hinged. I called out, “Hello? Hellooo? Is anyone here? I need to pick up a diploma.”

Then, from the back of the cavernous office a lady walked down this long corridor to the window where I stood. She was eating a tuna salad sandwich. As she chewed, I explained the never-received postcard, standing in line while everyone else’s name was called, almost in tears. I was told that I could get my diploma here. The lady with a tuna salad sandwich told me to wait there. So I did. I mean, what choice did I have??

In what seemed like forever, I again heard footsteps approaching from the depths of the Registrar’s office. Here she came…the lady who had been eating a Tuna Salad sandwich, now holding a large folder. As she handed it to me, I asked her if she would mind sharing this moment with me…I had worked so hard for this. I was the first in my family to graduate from college and then to receive a Master’s Degree. She quietly stood there, smiled and congratulated me. I thanked her, turned and walked out of the Rose Administration Building clutching my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education close to my chest. It had been a long road getting there, but I had done it! Although not the Dean of the College, receiving my diploma from a lady eating a Tuna Salad sandwich, in that quiet moment of reflection ended up being one of the most poignant of my life.

It can even bring tears to my eyes, now nineteen years later.

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