The first two promised they wouldn’t cry, but they did. One of those who spoke through tears explained that she started her doctorate degree when her son was 3; he was 8 now. That morning, she said, he had asked her if she would become a doctor that day. She told him yes, today was the day she’d become a doctor. The audience cooed their delight. She continued and said he followed up with, “Will you now have more time for me?”
The entire crowd exhaled a deflated “Ohhh” together.
This was the pre-graduation hooding ceremony, where those getting master’s degrees would get a hood that showed their degree status, placed on them by their professors, before the graduate would walk at commencement. It was also a chance for doctoral candidates to speak, be recognized and recognize those who helped them.
The candidates gave tearful thanks to parents who laid a foundation, effusive thanks to the spouses who kept the home running and apologies to children who had been put on hold but who grew up anyway. One speaker mentioned that she was sorry each time her child asked to play and she had to say she had to write. She promised him that the sacrifice would be worth it.
Screenwriter Shonda Rhimes, the creator of many things, one of the biggest being “Grey’s Anatomy,” gave a graduation speech back in 2014 that called being a powerful mother and a powerful working woman a “Faustian bargain.”
“If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff,” she said. “You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing.”
The third doctoral candidate was more collected, likely due to her 13 years as a lecturer at the university. It was during that time that she worked steadily on her Ph.D. and now was able to give thanks like the other newly minted doctors who would join her on stage. Her son had nearly his entire childhood framed by her identity of working toward her goal, but the apology to her son merged into why she stood at the ceremony that day.
“My father didn’t graduate high school because he couldn’t afford the shoes to go,” she said. “That’s why I’m here to celebrate today, for him.”
There are tears at graduations for the things that are lost and for the things that we gain. There are also bursts of pride, particularly in this crowd from previously stoic fathers, who couldn’t contain themselves and pierced through the polite applause with shouts of “mija,” — mi hija, my daughter — as tears streamed down their faces.
Another doctoral candidate started her speech in accented English, speaking directly to the professor who mentored and pushed her. She then switched to Spanish to talk about what her parents meant to her. She explained how her dad continually helped her and encouraged her.
She turned on stage and spoke to her mother, who took her by the hand to every event, to every possible opportunity, and how she saw that sacrifice of her mother’s time for her own daughter’s future. Even though she’d walk the stage at commencement alone, she said, she would be walking with her family in her heart while she held the hand of God.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.