A Chance to be Proud

Being part of a whole group of families celebrating the ground-breaking achievements of their children can remind us of the power of family and love.

I knew it was a big crowd, but it was hard to guess how big. According the newspaper the next day, there were sixteen hundred graduates. If each of them, like our son Paul, could bring six family members, that added up to a lot of people. And every single one of them was proud.

It was the community college commencement. I had been wondering if they would ask the entire group to stand and be acknowledged as graduates en mass. But after the speeches, each program of the college was named and graduates of that program were asked to stand, to the cheers of proud parents and fellow students. “Well,” I thought to myself, “that was an efficient way of offering some individuality to the recognition of this accomplishment.”

Then I realized that there was more. As students started to rise and file from that first row, they were not leaving, but heading toward the stage. The college was awarding diplomas individually. Every single name was going to be read, every diploma presented, every hand shook--all sixteen hundred of them.

Part of me was dismayed. I was underdressed for that outdoor amphitheater, and cold. It had been a long day, and was clearly going to be longer. But another part of me knew that this was exactly right. This college diploma was an enormous achievement for so many people. Many were breaking ground in their families as the very first to go on and succeed in higher education. Many were from immigrant families, taking this great step into the mainstream of American society. Many had struggled to balance work and children with school, spending years on the journey that led to this moment.

Each one of these people deserved individual recognition. Each family deserved to have their child’s name be the name that everyone heard. I watched the families around me prepare for their special moment. I watched the balloons readied to rise, the whistles passed out, the banners unfurled, the cameras readied. As each name was read, there was a cheer from some place throughout that vast crowd.

It brought tears to my eyes. I tried to imagine any other occasion where so many people would be gathered together with so much pure undiluted love and pride. The graduates were so proud of themselves. The families were so proud of their graduates. People from all over the city, from all ethnic groups and all walks of life were gathered together, proud of the city’s children.

I strained to be sure I could locate our boy in the sea of black gowns--our boy who had come to us at age sixteen, who had dropped out of high school, left home, come back at age twenty and set his dreams on a degree in photography from community college. I too was waiting for my moment to cheer.