Reflections from a December Grad

100 Days ‘til the Tassels Turn: the event you’ve been anticipating since the advertisements popped up in front of McInnis, landed in your inbox, and posted lists of prizes and fun. During the Spring 2015 semester I was still a part of the Class of 2016, so I just watched while my older friends really began their excitement about graduation; they knew exactly what was going on and what they were to do for their last 100 days until graduation. I had an idea that I might be graduating the following December but it wasn’t really in my mind that I should go to an event with the students who were actually graduating in 100 days until a friend told me there was information there for December grads too. I shrugged it off – how could I be in the mindset of graduating with at least ten months until I graduate?

In the fall I had been waiting to hear back about a chance to study abroad, but when that fell through in October, I realized I would be graduating in only a couple of months. Suddenly it was a time crunch to find out all the information. I had no idea who to contact and as a commuter who was student teaching it was rather difficult for anything to be done. I would email the registrar and alumni departments for questions and information and get different answers. I struggled to know little things like what I can do because my cap didn’t fit right and big things like if there was a certain time I needed to be paid up in order to walk. I was left wishing for all the information from the 100 Days ‘til the Tassels Turn event in one easy to access place.

But what was really disheartening was how underwhelmed I felt. I’d been on campus for the last several graduation ceremonies, so I took note that there is no senior chapel or picnic/dinner for the December grads like the traditional grads get. Maybe I was being too nostalgic, as I always imagined I would be spending my last chapel worshipping outside with my best friends – the same friends I made my freshman year on my hall. But I really cannot imagine how not just one but all of these events get lost on the December graduates.

But this wasn’t the end of the world, and I made the choice to graduate early. The last straw though, was the tickets I received in the mail, plain tickets on printer paper that I was expected to cut out myself. I had worked so hard, overcame obstacles, and given up living with my best friend our senior year, to be let down by the university I love.

By the end of November I had my gown hanging on my bedroom door, a daily reminder that these were the last days, no matter how much it didn’t feel like it. Nonetheless, the lackadaisical feeling continued until the ceremony. But then something changed. Something caused the line of graduates to stop and I stopped right in front of my INST150 professor. While I really hadn’t kept in touch with her aside from the occasional “hello,” here she was still cheering us on. It was one of those moments where I remembered why I had chosen Eastern. Somehow through all the parts of Eastern that changed in my three and a half years, the people were almost never one of them. After sitting down I couldn’t shake the best kind of pride: pride for the university that I had chosen, pride for the other graduates, pride in myself after seeing my parents emotional as I sat there, the first in my family to wear a college cap and gown. As the ceremony began, I was delighted by the beautiful music from the Angels of Harmony and the traditions that followed. More than that, though, I was delighted by the feeling in the gym.

The happiness kept coming as I was delightfully surprised by the speaker, an Eastern alum of whom I had never heard: Wendy Evangeline Ryan. After years of being a radio host in Trinidad, her home country, she came to what was at the time still Eastern College, as an adult. She earned a degree and went on to work in American Baptist Churches. Finally, she was working with HIV-positive women and opening Evangeline Ministries in Cape Town, South Africa, a program that teaches the gospel while giving women the skills to sew, and gifting them with a Bible and sewing machine upon graduation. It was listening to her that I decided I didn’t care what I felt about the lack of information and ceremonies. She had this vision and shared inspiration with us, telling me exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe I was the only one in the crowd that needed the reminder that there is so much more than me, than the things I selfishly wanted. She reminded me why I chose education, and why I want to teach abroad. Her gratitude for Eastern was infectious, and although it might not always be easy to love Eastern, in the end I know, that Eastern changed me for the better, and that is something that no lack of ceremonies can change.

Frankly I forgot about my hurt over everything in the months prior to graduation, until I began writing this reflection. I still feel like there is a lack of care that is taken with the December graduation process, and without the wonderful friends, family, and speakers at graduation, I might still feel the same bitterness. But then again, I suppose, much like when your pastor gives the exact sermon that you needed to hear, that wouldn’t have been God’s plan.

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