Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Graduation Story

My nephew graduated from college yesterday. I come from a tribe of people where this sort of thing is celebrated. It's a milestone, a seminal event. Whenever possible, we show up at these things. In my time on this planet, I have been a part of countless graduation ceremonies.

They are all horrible.

Our day began at 5 o'clock in the morning. That's how early I had to roll out of the rack in order to get to Lynchburg in time for the 8:45 processional. The day was glorious, bright sunshine and perfect temperature, but the day came with a unanimous disclaimer from every weatherman in the State of Virginia...strong chance of afternoon thunderstorms. But surely we would be out of harms way by the afternoon, right? I mean, geez...how long can a graduation that begins at 8:45 last??

Answer? All. Freaking. Day.

Here's the deal with college graduations. Every speaker seems to think that the 35,000 people in the stadium all came to hear them speak. So, all of them prattle on forever, convinced that we are hanging on their every word. College Presidents are the worst. Oh how they love hearing the sound of their voice! First, there's the boilerplate "limitless future" claptrap, followed by the deadly dull regurgitation of the gold-plated legacy of the school, and finally the obligatory shout-outs to the big donors. Meanwhile, we're sitting in the sun-splashed stands, scanning the sea of 8,000 graduates trying to spot our boy, wondering why the heck we never thought to bring some dang sun screen. An hour later the guest speaker strides to the podium. His speech has been loaded into a TelePrompTer. This means that somebody, somewhere is aware that we are facing a thirty minute stem winder. A full 90 minutes after taking our seats, we hear the magic words..."and now it's time to confer degrees on our graduates." This consists of an old guy saying, "Will all candidates for the bachelor of science degree stand and be recognized." Below, from the thirty yard line to the fifty yard line, a wave of black mortar boards rise rhythmically while exhausted parents, uncles, cousins and spouses clap politely. 

I'm sitting there thinking...what the heck just happened? No, no...my sister explains. This is just the graduation service. Ryan will walk to get his diploma at the next service...after a convenient lunch break which we will miss because the President took two hours recognizing the Dingledorph family for the having now six generations of Dingledorphs as Liberty graduates. Oh, and did you know that there are 16 sets of twins, all cancer survivors, graduating today?

After standing in line at the concession stand to buy a five dollar cheeseburger assembled last week and brought back to life twenty minutes ago by a heating lamp, I made my way down the field for the main event. I noticed off in the distance at the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains to the west a dark black line. I consulted the weather app on my cellphone and saw the giant green blob of rain that every weatherman in Virginia had been warning us about. It was rapidly making its way towards us. I took a bite of my cheeseburger. Surely the people in charge of this event are aware that God has placed us on a time clock, I thought. Then the dopey speaker spends fifteen minutes trying to coax 10,000 people to get "the wave" going. Apparently not.

By the time my nephew got his name called, the stadium was being rocked by 30 mile an hour gusts and sideways rain. It was 2:15. I had just spent five hours in a football stadium so I could get to hear my nephew's name called while huddled under an overhang in the cheap seats. 

But, all was well. We were reunited with our graduate afterwards and made plans to meet at his favorite Mexican restaurant. I had parked on the fourth level of the only parking deck on campus a mere half mile from the stadium. It was determined that I would catch the shuttle and go get the car,
then pick everyone up. Only the shuttles didn't take you to the parking deck so I had to walk. But since rain was coming down at a rate of six inches per hour, I had to run. By the time I made it to my car, I was soaked to the bone. Everything I had was wet. I grabbed a golf towel from the trunk and tried to dry off, only to realize that my golf towel was covered in dirt. So now I was not only wet, but muddy. Luckily, I had a fleece jacket in the trunk and was able to clean up with that. I back my car out of my space and get in the long line of cars trying to exit the deck. I looked at my watch. It was 2:30.

Forty minutes later, I was in the exact same spot. Apparently, nobody on this campus of higher learning thought that the spot where a line of cars pouring out of a parking deck trying to merge onto a packed road might need a traffic cop. At least I had plenty of time to dry off. 

By 4:15 our party was happily reunited at the Mexican restaurant. All the misery of the previous seven hours of incompetence was over as we enjoyed a fine meal and watched Ryan open some gifts. We will tell hilarious stories about this day for years to come...if any of us survive the skin cancer we will get from our third degree sunburns.