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home : Graduation : The Big Day :

Dispatches from My Graduation

It all started innocently enough...

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My parents pulled into the driveway of the leaning, fetid tenement I called home during my senior year, at around five p.m. on Friday. They had my three siblings and their spouses and kids in tow. All were well coiffed, well scrubbed, and geared to enjoy a special event I wanted absolutely nothing to do with.

I was coming off of a somewhat less than productive senior year. Among the highlights: a tongue-in-cheek final thesis paper chronicling W.B. Yeats' career as a decorated fighter-pilot for the IRA that earned me a few chuckles and a C+ from an incredulous professor, a heroic amount of whiskey, gin and beer consumed, and the accidental detonation of a TV set full of lighter fluid that blew a hole in our back yard, set our lawn and part of our porch ablaze, attracted a number of police and fire authorities and resulted in the temporary incarceration of my roommate and his brother.

So suffice it to say, the notion of a dignified ceremony capping off my final year in college did not jibe with my personal college experience of late.

But, as they say, graduation is more for the parents than it is for the students (the same could be said for many a college education). The ceremony itself is uncomfortable and anti-climactic. The real goodbyes come at the bar. You wear a robe, feign poise and mug for the cameras. Your parents marvel at what a fine person you've become, oblivious to the fact that you vomited drunkenly more during senior week than you did in your previous 21 years or so.

But make no mistake about it, graduation is exhausting. Everything about it is exhausting. Tasks ranging from finding accommodations for parents and entertaining relatives, to packing, to preparing yourself for the ceremony, leave little down time to savor your last days with friends in the place you've called home for the last four years. Often these weeks go so fast that the inevitability of graduation doesn't even have a chance to sink in. Some even repress it, hoping to get the most possible mileage out of these last moments, without having them soured by melancholy.

I met with my family intermittently over the weekend, a lunch here, a drink there, a nice dinner -- all while trying to get my head straight, find my gown (which was feared perished in the grassfire out back), attend miscellaneous English department ceremonies, and finish drafting a nasty letter to the appropriate county office exposing my landlord's wanton disregard for health codes.

And then, before I could blink, came Sunday. I rolled out of bed and to my dismay found that the disorder of my room not only paralleled, but in many ways exceeded the disorder in my digestive and nervous systems. The previous night my roommates (5) and I invited all of our brothers out to the neighborhood bar for drinks. It started off sociable enough. Then, they tell me, it went down hill. I faintly recall my brother squaring up angrily against one of my roommates (who had about 7 inches and 30 pounds on him) for some reason or another. I remember being given a free case of beer for the road by the bartender to commemorate our various "achievements." And if I'm not mistaken the police got involved, which came as no surprise. We were all on a first name basis by then anyhow.

So, anyway, the next morning. Despite my agony, I got up, threw on some decent clothes and steeled myself for the day ahead. My roommates and I sat in the somewhat ransacked living room of our house, dazed, hungover and dreading three hours in black robes on artificial turf, beneath the hot sun. Water was imperative. And where was that flask?

The next few hours were a whirl. I drove to school, met the 'rents, clowned around with friends, took pictures and had my picture taken. We lined up, filed in, sat still and made wisecracks at the dean and president as they walked by, with whom we were also on a first-name basis, due to a few questionable editorials published in the school and town newspapers. We half-listened to the keynote speaker, a one-armed Jesuit who ran, from what I gathered, a drama school for the blind. We stood up and sat down and stood up again. We filed out and split up to find our families, meet with professors and take more pictures.

Then, by three o'clock, it was over.

I arranged to meet my parents later that night for a quick meal, went home and passed out on the couch for five hours, utterly emotionally and physically drained. That was when it began to sink in. That was it. I was done.

And to this day my recollection of the actual ceremony is hazy. When I think back on it, I remember more about my brother almost getting trounced by my roommate, or the cop's face when another roommate asked if he was bullied in high school, than I do the experience of standing up and being conferred my degree. As a matter of fact, I remember very little of that entire day.

Much less than my parents do anyway.

Also of interest: Don't Believe the Hype, Graduating at 32, Commencement: the Hard Way, Graduation Ettiquete Quiz.

eGrad producer Joe Keohane graduated in 1999 with a degree in something-or-other.

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