Three weeks into my new job at a community college, I was asked to attend its graduation. Sporting a polyester gown I borrowed along with a wrong-colored hood and a cap anchored stupidly with stretched-out bobby pins, I sat on stage with other staff and faculty members to watch a rush of students river on by.
This was not a graduation for those who never question their privilege and entitlement; it was a holy rite of passage for those who toiled like dogs for every credit they earned. The ceremony was book-ended by a religious invocation and a benediction, and, while it made a secularist like me twitch, no one seemed fazed by the many mentions of their Father. It was He, I believe they believed, who made the seeming impossible possible.
The ceremony took place in an opera house located at the intersection of Poverty Street and Strife Avenue. It was crammed with hooters and whoopers and howlers who shouted out whenever they saw their loved ones. “That’s my baby!” screamed a mother. “That’s my wife!” cried another. Corey, Simcha, Teka, Ayo, Lakesia, Varun, Tenia, Nikia, Nakeia, Sarala, George, Crenese, Pema, Brittany, Krishna, Guy, Lavera, Frazontra, Pearlie, Teena, Melvin, Jamal, Bibek, Naresh, Zdravko, Nada, Dante, Leslie, Tyteona, Janice, Dell, Kossi, Cesar, and hundreds more strode across the stage to receive their diplomas from the President.
One had glued fuzzy green and white pom-poms along the edges of her mortar board, someone else had somehow managed to attach blinking white lights to hers, and still another did a shimmy shaky slinky dance that fetched a squeal from a delighted audience. Everyone had someone to cheer them on, which made me so happy I bawled; yet, I couldn’t help but think that had I been one to walk across that stage silence would surely have dogged me.