This story is for all those local students who are graduating this year, whether it be from high school, college, trade school or whatever.
It was March 1979, and being the erstwhile, driven student that I was, I was close to finishing my second – and final – senior year at the University of Akron.
I told everybody that I was able to cram a four-year program into five years. It was tough, I’d point out to them, but doggone it, I was determined to do it.
They didn’t get the joke. They just stared wide-eyed at me as if I were crazy, or that they felt sorry for me.
In any event, I was ready to graduate – finally.
For that matter, it was a big deal, but beyond that, graduation day carried about the same importance to me as Ground Hog Day.
Just give me the diploma and be done with it.
Others saw it a bit differently.
And he was sitting with me and his wife, my mom, at the dinner table that evening.
"So, when is your graduation ceremony for school?" my dad asked
"I don’t know," I replied, not bothering to look up as I continued to woof down my dinner as if I hadn’t eaten in forever, or about five hours, which is forever when you’re a male in your early 20s and you have a metabolism that allows you to eat continually without getting as big as a sumo wrestler.
"What do you mean, you don’t know?" he asked incredulously. "I’m sure the school sent you something in the mail about the details of graduation. I heard it was at the Coliseum."
"I don’t know, dad, I’m sorry," I said as I kept shoveling the food in.
"Well, if you don’t know, you’ve got to find out," he said, beginning to apply the ol’ full-court press.
"Ah, heck, Dad, it doesn’t matter because I’m not going anyway," I said, proving without a doubt that you can indeed say something intelligible with your mouth full. "I’m not into that kind of silly stuff."
Then ensued the kind of eerie stillness that comes before a big storm. I could no longer hear the clang of his spoon – the one he brought home from The Big One, World War II – against his bowl of chili
I looked over to see what was going on with him.
He was staring right at me, his eyes piercing me like a bayonet. His face was beet-red, the same color as the chili. Big tears were rolling down each cheek. And he was quivering a little bit.
"Whoa! This can’t be good!" I thought to myself.
I had never seen him quite like this before. The only time that was even remotely close was when I had smarted off to mom when I was about 14. That situation did not end well, and I could only imagine what I had gotten myself into this time and what was in store for me.
He just kept glaring at me. You’ve heard the old saying, "He was so mad that I could see the steam coming off his head." At that moment, I realized it wasn’t just a saying. I mean, his glasses were starting to fog up, for crying out loud.
I could say I miscalculated the situation, but that would not be strong enough. It would be like saying Custer miscalculated the number of Indians at Little Big Horn.
On a scale of one to 10 for hitting the target, my score was about a minus-15.
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally spoke with that deep voice of his. He never talked a whole lot, but when he did say something, it was important so I knew to give him my full attention.
"I’ve waited for this day for a long time, so you WILL go through the graduation ceremony," he said slowly and directly. "Is that understood?"
It was as clear as glass.
"Yes," I said.
Yes, even if my seat at the Coliseum in Richfield ended up being in a moat filled with hungry crocodiles, I was going to be parked in it in full regalia of cap and gown. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.
What I failed to remember is that my dad graduated from high school in 1935 in the middle of the Great Depression, a time when he and his buddies used to scrounge around for empty pop bottles so they could get the deposit and have enough money to go the movies on Saturday afternoons, Despite all that, somehow, some way – who knows how -- he managed to find his way to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. so he could walk onto the football team while earning a college degree.
Things went swimmingly until he got a letter from his mom two years later telling him that his dad had lost his Works Progress Administration job helping to build roads, so he would have to quit school, come home, find a job and provide for the family.
His dream was gone forever. No more football. No degree. No anything.
My dad hardly ever lived in the past, but he sure did so with this situation. He was bitter about it until the day he died.
Because of that, he was bound and determined that his only child was going to go to college and graduate and thus get the opportunity that was pulled out from under him. And as part of that, he wanted me to experience all the ceremonial pomp and circumstance, the whole nine yards.
I never saw him so proud and happy as graduation day. I was there for both him and me.
The moral of this story is that while some students may not be awed by a graduation ceremony, it’s almost a sure bet that their family members are.
So even if you don’t want to take that big walk for yourself, do it for them, the ones who helped you get to this point.
And congratulations on getting that diploma!