Before he died, my dad bought a domain and set up his own website. He called it “Chuck’s Odyssey” and he outlined his plan to spend his retirement years traveling the county in his F350 with a fifth-wheel and a big camper with slide-outs.
He was really getting into the RV shows and pimping out his truck (he had already added the array of running lights across the top and was saving for the 5th wheel). His website had pictures of his ex-wives, the places he hoped to visit and his three daughters -lovingly referred to as The Trilateral Commission.
He was proud of all three of us, because we were smart despite our gender (that’s a joke… mostly). My sisters were both already career women with families by then, and today they are both ITS workers -one for the government and the other for a medical facility. Dad always considered himself a tech geek, although he would have never called it that, and I owe my own tech sophistication to his interest in computing as far back as 1984. I was the lone straggler in his last years of life, playing with technology while my sisters made their livelihoods from it, but he had faith that I would get where I was going eventually.
I’m still traveling my path, but today I felt the beginnings of an entirely new empowerment. For the past ten years I’ve been desperately yearning for a kind of happiness that seemed just out of my grasp. The restless panic that’s set in for the last few of those years nearly drove me over the edge of madness. Standing in the line today to pick up my cap and gown, it still hadn’t sunk in that this was happening.
Every hurdle I’ve jumped has seemed to be just the foothill of a mountain of new challenges -I nearly expected to be turned away even picking up the tickets for my graduation ceremony. The girls in front of me teased each other about fighting the urge to cry as we walked single file through the convocation lobby. Down the stairs and through the rat maze of ropes we were led to the lists of graduates and the convocation center staff. We each gave them our height and were handed rental caps and gowns and a colored tassle -each one a different color.
I finally felt the tears struggling to well up as I pushed past the “Win a Free iPod” entry table and out the heavy glass doors with my bag in hand. The buzz of people behind me was punctuated with the occasional “Congratulations” from the people collecting information cards. Even though I know they were just there to collect our information for lists to sell to marketers, that’s when it finally struck home.
The day after tomorrow I’m going to be in that building wearing that goofy black robe and someone’s going to tell me “congratulations” and I’m just going to sob with relief. My joy is tinged with the awareness that I still have to take a math test and a summer course -and then I’m facing Graduate School and the search for a career- but all of that is thrilling because I’m here. I’m finally ready to believe that I have done what I set out to do, and fulfilled my promise to my dad.
I’ve been standing in the shadow of this ceremony for ten years, fighting my way toward it and hoping with every fiber of my being that it would let me pass when I got here. The stone has rolled away, and I’m ready to feel truly alive again -without guilt or regret or trepidation about my own competence.
I am ready to graduate. Thank the Gods!