A Different Kind of Graduation—by Jamie Levine
Twenty-two years ago, I graduated from the University of Michigan. At the time, I was living with six twenty-something-year-old female college seniors in an off-campus house in Ann Arbor. We studied together and partied together, and now we were graduating together. After swigging some champagne—or some sort of alcohol that I can’t recall—we all traipsed off together to the football stadium for the momentous culmination of our college career. George H.W. Bush was our commencement speaker, and coming from a Democratic family, I was less-than-thrilled, and barely listened to his speech. And because our class was so incredibly large—numbering in the thousands—none of our names were actually called, but rather, when the words “College of Literature, Science, and the Arts” were spoken into a microphone, my friends and I threw our caps up into the air and screamed with joy. Then my six housemates and I walked back to our house and ate, drank, and celebrated for hours with our families who had all traveled to Ann Arbor to witness this milestone in our lives (even if they never actually saw us during the graduation ceremony, itself).
Sunday, May 19, 2013, was an entirely different experience. Unlike the sweltering hot summer-like day I had withstood over two decades before in Ann Arbor, my graduate school graduation ceremony occurred on a chilly, rainy morning. I drove myself to Nassau Coliseum, where all of Adelphi’s graduating students—from undergraduates to Ph.D. candidates—were supposed to congregate at 8 a.m. Ducking through the pouring rain without an umbrella in hand, I entered the building alone, threw on my cap and gown (begging a staff member to help me arrange my master’s hood properly), and waited along with my fellow speechies for over an hour to enter the arena. In the meantime, my parents, niece, and my six-year-old daughter had arrived, and were anxiously looking for me. When I finally emerged in the arena, our procession marched right in front of my excited daughter who was screaming, clapping, and blowing kisses at me. That moment made me eternally grateful that I had decided to attend the ceremony (unlike many of my classmates, who had decided to skip it).
The ceremony lasted forever, involving too many speakers and their too-long speeches. But I did surprisingly enjoy the commencement address—which was given by Chuck D. from Public Enemy—and found it far more memorable than George Bush’s. But after almost three endless hours of sitting and waiting for my name to be called, I assumed that my daughter had likely gone nuts and my mother or father had taken her home early. But I was wrong; as students from other disciplines finally began filing onto the stage, I kneeled on my seat and looked back in the arena—and there was my daughter—sitting impatiently. When I finally made my way to the stage and my name rang out over the loudspeaker, Jayda cheered and waited for me to circle back to her on the Coliseum floor, where I returned her blown kisses and hugged her tightly. Whether Jayda understood the magnitude of the event or not, that morning, my daughter’s love and attention made me prouder than anything I had accomplished…and I was so glad she was there to share the experience with me. Jayda had been to class with me—and had met my professors and classmates a multitude of times; she had been to Adelphi’s clinic (and, unbeknownst to her, was even informally tested there by a speech-language pathologist); she had been “my date” for a graduate school awards reception, where I was a recipient, and she even attended a BBQ at the site of my final externship. Jayda had truly experienced graduate school with me—and it was only fitting that she watched me graduate.
I had my daughter later in life than many of my friends had given birth to their children. And I certainly finished graduate school years and years behind all of my contemporaries. But I have Jayda—and a M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology now. And somehow having attained the latter with the former around every step of the way makes both of them even more meaningful.