Here is it is, graduation time again, and have I had my share of graduations! The first one I remember, at age 5, was being with my Uncle Glenn when my mother -- who had finished at Livingston State Teacher´s College in about 1916, at the ripe old age of 15 -- graduated again from Howard College in 1937. As Howard later became Samford University, my mother became eligible and was selected Samford alumna of the year in 1972.
After graduating from Livingston, though, she went to Columbia University in New York City for graduate work. Her dad sent word for her to come home when her report card arrived in West Blocton, Alabama. She made all As, but he strongly objected to her chosen curriculum: interior design, swimming, and modern dance. She was on a synchronized swimming team and was quite good, but home she came.
She went back to Howard to get a B.S. so she could be certified by the state as a teacher, once that was required by law, in order to keep doing what she had been doing since she was a teenager. That was my first graduation ceremony to attend. My Uncle Glenn pointed out my mother coming down the aisle in her cap and gown. Thank goodness she had shown me the getup at home so I knew what to expect.
Otherwise, everyone looked the same. I remember her face when she smiled at me coming down the aisle. She was in her 30´s at the time, but you could not tell she was older than the other grads, which would have made her smile by itself.
The next graduation I attended was high school graduation at Ensley High. I played the cello for the ceremony every year when the school orchestra played the traditional high school graduation march. I loved that song and imagined the day I would walk down the aisle to its beat. I remember my own high school graduation because the band director tried to change the program and play a different march. Needless to say, I hated the idea of not hearing my favorite march when it was my turn to graduate, so I got up a petition to keep the old one, "Pomp and Circumstance." Enough people agreed with me and the orchestra played it in the end. Except this time, I was in the march, not playing it. I´m not sure how the orchestra director liked it, but I did get to march to Pomp and Circumstance when it was my turn.
I remember the feeling of that high school graduation ceremony being my one big chance to experience it for myself. Now I wonder if we have graduation ceremony overload. I always thought it quite absurd to put children through a graduation ceremony at 5 or 6 years of age, from kindergarten on. They could care less. Making them sit still for that long is torture for them. It is not something they have eagerly anticipated for years, as much as something they have to endure—along with the parents and teachers!. Does it take away from the important graduations later on being a big deal, I don´t know. But I know when my granddaughter Sarah graduated from Auburn, in the football stadium in the heat of the summer, it was all anyone could do to keep from burning up as the thousands of graduates sat and waited their turn to file across the stage all dressed in black. I am sure she will remember that with a laugh one of these days, along with better college memories.
But since my own high school march I have had many chances to experience the rite of passage. Many of them I don´t remember much at this point. Many people hate to sit through all the photos, but my fondest memory of my own college graduation was the picture taken that preserved the moment of how proud my father was. After the end of World War II, we graduated from Auburn in a quonset hut, which was the only building large enough. It did not make for much of a photo op. We took the photo with my dad in front of the Chi O dorm. They didn´t have fancy sorority houses then at Auburn like they did at Alabama and Georgia, but it was the best backdrop we had, and that didn´t matter.
The most memorable thing about my brother Tucker´s graduation from college was that it almost didn´t happen. My mother said he carried a double major, fishing and hunting. After six years in college, when the big day was finally coming, he asked me to mail his graduation invitations. I was surprised, though, when he called me up the same day I put the invitations in the mailbox and said you haven´t mailed those invitations, have you? It turned out he failed one of his courses. I remember my dad´s response was that Tucker was "finished at Auburn." Tucker finagled a graduated from Birmingham- Southern College. Some times foul-ups can turn into something even grander— unless you’re embarrassed, of course.
At my son Ed´s graduation from Auburn I remember some of his friends put together a picnic lunch for us for after the ceremony because they knew our house had just burned down and putting things like that together was not so simple for us. Moving on to the next phase is not always easy. But help from friends and even strangers can get you through it. At my other son´s graduation from Princeton, we showed up from Alabama unprepared for how chilly it turned out to be at the end of May in New Jersey. But some thoughtful locals were ready with sweaters to pass out to the southern yokels. I will always remember and appreciate the northern retest somehow and passed, so he made it into the ceremony, after all. Do you suppose it might not have happened if I had not already sent the invitations.
That reminds me of arriving at my son Bobby´s graduation from Birmingham-Southern, seven years after he started, when he sheepishly informed us not to worry, that he was going to graduate even though his name was not in the program. The school had informed him by mail a few days before that he could not graduate because he owed a fine of less than a dollar for an overdue book at the library. His solution to the problem was to come to our house on Westbury Road to take the letter informing his parents that he would not graduate because of the library book out of the mailbox, so his father and I would not see it. He paid the fine and got to attend his graduation ceremony, just without his name in the program. By the time my mother was through Bobby had an individual writeup in the Birmingham News, including his photo, that he had hospitality. For my son’s graduation from law school, we were invited to lunch after the ceremony to Georgia football coach Vince Dooley’s house.
My mother, whose Howard graduation was the first I attended, graduated again with a Master´s from the University of Alabama. But she did not get to attend her own graduation this time, because that was the same day my third son was born in New Orleans, so my mother and dad came on the train for an even more important transition. When they arrived at the station and learned that the baby had already arrived, my dad said that was the nicest thing I had ever done for him, that he did not have to sit and wait for the moment to come.
graduation, especially at the college level, is unique. Very little
changes in the graduation exercise itself. The most important thing is
the pride that is felt in every participant´s heart -- even if they miss
the event itself.
Interested in more Birmingham history and fish stories? Try http://npaper-wehaa. com/bhamweekly/2012/02/09/#?article=1516608, or bhamweekly/2012/01/05/#?article=1487388. Or just go to www.bhamweekly.com and search for author Ann Rose