Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eleven years ago today...

...I graduated from college.

It started off as an ominous day. There were big, thick storm clouds in the distance when I awoke and looked out my window. All of the weathermen in the tri-state area had been predicting rain, rain, rain for that day, and I was wishing, hoping, praying that it would hold off till after the ceremony.

The day before, the weather was perfect for Baccalaureat Mass. Absolutely perfect. Sunny, a bit warm, but not a cloud in the sky. This gave me hope that the forecast was incorrect.

Just in case, though, I hung rosary beads out my window. It's an old Catholic trick: if you hang rosary beads out the window the day before a big storm, it's supposed to hold off the nasty weather.

Up until that fateful Sunday, my rosary beads worked every. Single. Time.

At 7:30 AM the phone started ringing. My friends and I were all calling each other, asking if they had heard anything about holding graduation indoors. We listened to the radio, turned on the university's cable channel, yelled out the window as random people drove by. Nothing. By 9:00 we all had to be in the science center and the school of nursing to put on our robes and line up, so we all squeezed into two cars (there were about ten of us traveling together) and drove the thirty-second drive from one end of campus to the other.

We got out of our cars, hugged each other for good luck, and went our separate ways.

It was the last time we all saw each other as undergrads.

At 9:30 AM, we were all lined up. The undergrads and the graduate students all participated in the same ceremony, so the line snaked from the chapel all the way down to the library. We slowly marched up the hill past the campus center, black robes on, hats on our heads, degree stoles slung over our right arms.

And then, ominously, the chapel bells chimed ten times.

10 o'clock.

Time for the ceremony to begin.

The line moved quicker. We walked up the hill past the chapel, past another classroom building, and onto Bellarmine Lawn, where we made our way to the back of Bellarmine Hall, that glorious symbol of our school, and took our seats.

So far, the rain had held off. The dark, stormy clouds still cast a pall over the ceremony. We were happy to be outside, but nervous as the clouds lingered over us.

At 10:15, as the first set of speeches finished, it started to mist.

The College of Arts and Sciences was the first to graduate its members. It was tradition for a graduate to climb the stairs of Bellarmine Terrace, hear their name read, and receive his or her diploma directly from the university president (well, actually, it was a decoy scroll meant to symbolize the degree. We didn't receive our real degrees until after the ceremony, when we turned in our robes).

At 10:30, the first batch of undergrads turned into graduates. Then it was time for members of the School of Business, the School of Nursing, and the Graduate School to receive their faux diplomas.

By the time everyone had been conferred their degrees, it was 11:00.

At that moment, the heavens opened.

A downpour.

About a third of the newly minted grads sprung up and ran for shelter.

Our commencement speaker, Carole Simpson, former weekend anchor of ABC World News Tonight, assumed the podium and asked us all one simple question:

"Are you all wet?"

There was a mix of cheers and groans.

"I will be brief..."

A thunderous round of applause.

Even though she cut her graduation speech in half, it wasn't until noontime when our university president declared the 48th Commencement Exercises of Fairfield University closed. By that time we were all soaked to the bone. Even though the downpour let up, it still rained pretty steadily.

The rain had paused long enough for my family to take pictures in front of the chapel. When I went to turn in my robes, however, the yellow sundress that I had purchased for the event had turned a faint shade of purple. The rain caused my graduation robes to bleed through. I had to return to my dorm room and get changed before we all went out to brunch.

We entered the restaurant at 1:00. It had closed for the day, only opening to Fairfield grads and their families. We all chatted with each other and reminisced about the ceremony. At that point we didn't find the humor in it. We were mad that our commencement got ruined by the rain.

By the time most of us left at 3:00, we discovered an interesting phenomenon:

Sun, in all of its bright, blazing glory.

I smiled. The bonfire was going to go on that night, as planned.

At least one graduation tradition wasn't spoiled by the rain.

The next day, I packed the remaining items from my dorm room (Papa Cat moved most of them back home the weekend before), said goodbye to some friends who were still on campus, and made the trip home.

It was a bright, beautiful sunny day.

I've never written about my college graduation before. As I type this, the memories of it are now as fresh as they were on the day it happened. I remember moving back home feeling very bittersweet, but more bitter than sweet. Amongst the bitterness: no job prospects, and having to move back in with mom and dad.

But that's another post for another time.

Let's move ahead five years, to the day I graduated with my Master's degree. I don't remember the exact date, but I do remember graduating in the bright, hot sun. My family didn't quite understand why I wanted to walk in my Master's ceremony, when about half of the grad students opted not to walk.

I wanted to graduate in the sun.

It was that simple.

Today, I'll be thinking about the students participating in the 59th Commencement Exercises at Fairfield University. For the first time, the undergrads and the graduate students will have separate ceremonies. My BFF and several other friends will be singing at the graduate ceremony with their choir.

The Weather Channel is predicting light rain in the morning.

I hope their clothes don't turn purple.

***UPDATE, 10:26 AM: I'm listening to the webstream and they're holding the ceremony outdoors. The rain has held off for the grads! Thank God!***


NurseExec said...

My high school graduation got rained on midway. It sucked. Thanks for sharing your memories :)

Grand Pooba said...

What a graduation story you have to tell! Me? I graduated inside. Wouldn't have mattered if it rained (Which it did if I remember correctly!)

Ok, I'm jealous you have your masters degree! I need to go back for that!