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Graduation Day, Redux

My mom called me this morning and played a round of "guess that tune" with me, until it was clear that I was hearing a pattering of the graduation march in the background. It turned out that she was watching the DVD of my MA graduation ceremony on her new, bigger screen - and then she started getting teary-eyed about it.

I couldn't help but be amused. "Ma," I said, "that was three years ago."

But for her, right then, it might as well have been that very moment all over again. It was a curious sensation, to listen to her relive that day like an announcer caught up in the action of a game. I sat on the other end of the phone and marveled at the play-by-play.

She said that it was beautiful, and admonished me to be kind whenever I had the chance to watch it myself. (She knows how I felt about the pictures I took for the occasion; it was deeply disturbing not to recognize myself in them. I gave her the DVD without even looking at it.) "You were beautiful then and you're beautiful now," she said, and paused a section taken up by my smile. I had no idea how I might feel by the time I faced the full-color, full-motion image of myself in 2008, worn down by months of intense study and swathed in some 250 pounds of flesh. But her focus on my smile made me think that I could certainly afford to be kind.

She told me she was so proud, as though I had just gotten done with finals and was standing there in my cap and gown. She reminded me that I should be proud, probably because she remembers how deeply ambivalent I felt about it for some time. "You worked really hard and you earned this." The edge to her voice echoed across the ether and made me feel it.

And suddenly I felt bad about the haphazard way I slapped my degrees up on the wall, mostly to quiet her insistence that I do so. To this day they are not quite straight in their frames and maybe the frames are a little off center, too (which I originally took as yet another sign of how off-kilter that whole period of my life became, so I gave up any hope of fixing them).

I was bemused by a flash of tender-hearted affection for those slips of paper and all that they represented - not just knowledge or struggles or student loan payments, but entire years of my life. They weren't the highest or most expensive recommendations and they didn't make me a rocket scientist, but they would always be mine. And as sure as spouses exchange rings, I would always be theirs. I gave myself to my education as wholeheartedly as I knew how and its mark is seared in me. I feel it every day - and I don't regret it.

Only later did I realize that it has indeed been three years almost to the day of my graduation and though that particular anniversary has passed uncelebrated since then, it will not go without some recognition this year.

For what it's worth three years later, I am proud. I think, to my mother, at least, that is worth a great deal.

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