Sunday, May 19, 2013

Graduation Day

So Her Highness graduated this past week.  I know that every parent of a college graduate breathes a sigh of relief, but I think Ed and I deserve a major sigh.  If you know any part of the story of raising our daughter (fondly known as HRH by her uncles) then you understand why. She is a beautiful girl with a sparkling personality.  And a degree of stubbornness unseen in generations.  I won't go into details, but let me just say that as a toddler she brought trained professionals to their knees.

All that aside, let me tell you all about the Howard University graduation. If you don't know Howard is an historically Black University (HBCU) and has a long history of graduating highly successful and service oriented folks.  Thurgood Marshall received his law degree there.  Since it's located in DC its students are in the thick of all things political. It was amazing to me that Chloe got to attend a premier HBCU in DC during the term of the first Black president.  But Howard turned out to be so much more than we hoped for.  For the entire time that she was there, Chloe has been told that her job in life is to be of service. I think that's why she was drawn to the school in the first place. She has always had a strong sense of justice, and her father and I have tried to give her a sense of obligation.  We visited several schools before she made her choice, but from the moment we stepped on the Howard campus, it felt as if she belonged there. Even though she was accepted to 3 other schools, there was never any question of where she wanted to go.  I'm so glad she did.

Even knowing all this did not prepare me for the graduation at Howard. It's a big enough school that the various departments hold separate awards ceremonies before the main commencement. The school of education is one of the smaller ones. This is partly because it is a  very selective program.  In fact, you are not allowed to major in education as an undergraduate.  You must choose another major (secondary teachers major in the area they wish to teach, and elementary level teachers choose from an approved list) then in your Sophomore year (I think)  you apply to the graduate school of education. If you are accepted, you will begin taking graduate courses in your Junior year.  The Education ceremony was on Thursday, so we drove down Wednesday night after work.  We spent Thursday morning listening to a series of remarkable speakers.  The Dean of the education department and various students spoke eloquently of the mission of the University and of the education graduates. They spoke of the need to make a difference and of the tradition in the Black community in general and Howard in particular of reaching back to pull others along. What struck me most was how happy all the faculty looked as they gave out the awards. I attended a large state university as an undergraduate and the professors barely knew our names. Both my husband and I got our graduate degrees from larger mainstream schools. (Northwestern and Loyola).  I don't think any of those professors particularly cared whether most of us finished or not.  My husband had to actually disband his dissertation committee and start over.  At the Howard ceremonies, the faculty hugged the students as they got their degrees. Doctoral candidates were greeted onstage by their dissertation advisors, and you could see and feel the joy and pride the faculty members had in their proteges.

On Saturday at the main commencement we got to see the entire graduating class march in, and we listened to a speech from the class representative that was as moving and eloquent as any of the ones that came after, including the one by Bill Clinton who was the main commencement speaker.  We sat on the "yard" in intermittent rain and watched some of the best and brightest of our children walk into the future.  It was wonderful and scary and thrilling. 

And so she's off.  She has one more year of study to finish her master's and she has to take the Praxis exam, but for the most part she's launched. I joke with Ed that I get a catch in my heart every time I see her walk away from me. But it's no joke. It's been like that since she took her first steps. I have  a really hard time with it. It's silly but there you are. So I thought it would be really hard to see her walk away from me in a cap and gown.  But oddly, it wasn't.  Maybe it's because I know she's ready now. I've seen her overcome a lot of adversity, and her own limitations, to accomplish something remarkable.  She has fought her own tendency toward defiance, she overcame a serious bout of homesickness and inner doubt in her freshman year, stuck it out even when her grades weren't that great, worked hard to bring them up so she could make it into the graduate program, and held down a job to boot.  I'm really proud of her. I think she'll be fine. And so will I.