I only went to graduation because my mother insisted upon it. I didn’t go to my undergraduate ceremony, so I guess she felt ripped off. Luckily for her, this year I was invited to two graduation ceremonies- the general commencement at Rupp Arena (which every graduate attends) and a special diversity celebration called the Harambee ceremony. This means I had to stand up on stage twice. For those of you who don’t know me, that’s TWO opportunities to fall across the stage. TWO chances to accidentally speak into the microphone while murmuring inappropriate things, like:
“This is what I spent sixty-five grand for?”
“Fuck these shoes.”
I had a lot of anxiety about the actual graduation ceremonies, particularly because I hate being the center of attention.
I’m afraid I’ll take up too much time, or someone will think I expected too much. Maybe my hair could frizz out, or my body could bloat. Pimples will bloom all over my face from the anxiety, the way flowers do from sunshine, and my overall appearance will be offensive and disgusting. People will say, “Huh, she used to be a decent person- before graduate school.”My fears may stem from living in a family where women’s actions and appearances were critiqued at every opportunity. Too much makeup, not enough makeup, or an extra ten pounds were deemed fatal errors that would most likely result in a girl being alone forever.
Wait… That was your family too?
That explains a lot- about both of us.
Yet somehow, I walked across the stage twice, without any faceplants or booing, or booze. I shook the dean’s hand and reached for degree folder, and he didn’t snatch it at the last moment like I’d suspected he might. Somehow I managed not to shame my family while graduating. The ceremonies ended, with the promise that the actual diploma would be mailed to my apartment, which I found very suspicious.
My family wandered out of the arena and into the crowded streets, where we took thousands of photographs. The hot sun was beating down on my polyester robes as I was arranged alongside members of my family in slightly different, virtually indistinguishable arrangements. We were in front of fountains at Triangle Park.
Across the street from Triangle Park was the Hilton hotel, the place where my husband and I stayed for our wedding night. So many wonderful things had already happened to me while I was in college, but now I had the sinking sense that it was all over. Where would life take me next? I gripped my empty degree folder tighter with sweaty, anxious palms, and wondered if I could get a job as a maid at the Hilton.