Jun 4, 2009

Graduation Memories

As high schools move into graduation time, I was thinking about my own high school graduation 21 years ago now (yikes!). I almost didn't make it.

OK it's not what you think, I was an honor student in fact I was ranked ninth in my high school class so I was not academically in danger of not graduating. Rather I nearly circled my graduation.

I was the state Extemporaneous Speaking champion for a club I belonged to and I had the opportunity to compete in the National Competition in Wichita, Kansas--a city that I have always had a fondness for since visiting there. If I were to make the final round, I would not be able to make it back to my high school graduation exercises--a tough choice. I remember crying about it. I often lived in fear as a child of my mother dying. She has been a sick woman for a long time--since I was about 8 or 9. She's lived 30 years beyond those fears so I think I can let that fear go now. But I remember fretting that I had done all this work and mom was going to be there to watch me graduate...

And now I wasn't going to show up.

Well, I think that pressure got to me. I finished 12th and only the top 10 get to go to the finals. Not a terrible job but not good enough. I flew home with two classmates from Wichita with a stop in Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It was then we got the announcement:

"If you are flying on United Airlines Flight 509 to New York's LaGuardia Airport, your flight has been cancelled."

My friend's Kelly and Iris who were with me at the Nationals as delegates gasped. Kelly started to cry. My teacher bolted to the desk and somehow, I still don't know how, got us booked on the next flight to NY on another airline which was going to cut it close. He called our parents: "Take their caps and gowns to the Westchester County Center and meet us there. We're either going to just make it or be late or not get there at all." And then he made a call to the Yonkers Board of Education. Get a van out to LaGuardia with the craziest driver you've got. We need someone to get us to White Plains in less than an hour from LGA."

We piled in the van which had no seats, we bounced around the highways of New York and we literally started running down the streets with 5 minutes left to get on the line for Pomp and Circumstance.

Somehow we made it. I was zipping up my gown seconds before I walked down the aisle. Whew! What a day. Ironically, my mom was in the hospital on my graduation day but it was only 4 years ago that I got my master's at Fordham and she was there present. One of the proudest moments of my life was when the dean of the school came up to her and my dad and sang my praises to them. Imagine an immigrant father and a mother who grew up in the depression and couldn't finish high school because the family was broke and needed her in the workforce hearing that from an acclaimed dean. That indeed has to be part of the American dream for many.

So graduates of 2009, congratulations. Enjoy your day and if you find yourself running down city streets and zipping up your graduation gown seconds before you grab that diploma just know one thing:

It happens to the best of us.

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