It was hard to imagine that 5 years had passed since the graduation of yours truly from an undergraduate institution of higher learning. The road to a Bachelors Degree was filled with many twists and turns – from a failed stint at another institution far from home to housing woes to legal trouble and everything else in between, from the end of the last millennium to the 16th of May of the first year of this decade. Once the rain finished falling that fateful day and the paper was firmly in my hand, it was onto the real world and to my first real job.
Anyone who’s read this blog already knows how the latter turned out. If the road to Morningside Heights was paved with good intentions, the road from there was paved every which way and then some. Many a time, I would come home from work with another student loan bill due, messages on my phone from the University seeking donations, and a degree in my room that was quickly gathering dust. What was the point of all this, besides a change in status in the job market? Why did people earn History degrees if they did not want to teach, lead a library, host a museum tour, or enter Law School? Could it possibly be to do what a liberal arts degree aims for, which is the mastery of reading, writing, and critical thinking that was missing so dearly from the republic in the early days of the 21st Century?
All of this crossed my mind during my myriad of shifts on the thoroughfares of Gotham – throughout epic traffic jams, crawls to the airport in the pouring rain, and in the wee hours of the night when the streets doubled as airplane runways.
“And you’re doing this?”
“Are you all right?”
“If I wasn’t, you’d have another driver right now.”
And so it went…
And it went, all the way until earlier this week. After turning in the taxi at the end of Monday’s surprisingly busy shift, a few days off awaited me. Off not just as in off of work, but off-kilter. My sleep cycle had to invert, last minute invitations went out, and I had to have everything ready for the big anniversary march.
It’s a tradition at the school formerly known as King’s College that those who graduated in increments of 5 years into the past have the privilege of marching with the deans and faculty out of Low Library and onto the steps to start the commencement procedures for that year’s graduation ceremony. 5 years ago, I was up in the corner with the other students who had attended the school of General Studies but this time around, it was front and (nearly) center for this marcher. My cap and gown was waiting for me at the University so it was regular garb through the city until I made my way to Amsterdam and 117.
“Oh, it’s beautiful.”
“Indeed but you’ll be colder inside and warmer outside with it on.”
“I don’t care. It looks great and the sun’s out today. Who could ask for more?”
Turns out that no one did. For many of us, it was our first time going through this process and I was the only student from the class of ’10 to be in the procession. Only two rows were given to us, which wasn’t a lot less than what was allotted for the Deans, Professors, and academic recipients. To be seated near those who ran and led the school was an honor, even if many of those that helped me reach this point were seated in the stands up in the sky and not in front of Butler Library.
Even with a smile, sunglasses, and the occasional cheer through the gaze out into the crowd, the tears were the only hallmark of the event that completely conveyed my true emotions from the ceremony’s start to finish. It was wrong of me to put off going to school, to deride the process and the economics that nearly drove me broke, and to express discomfort at the J-O-B that I had upon graduating as opposed to the career trajectory that I thought I would be embarking on. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there should not be any griping once one walks through the gates of academia for the last time as a student.
Speakers reminded us of the issues and points that needed to be at the forefront of our minds in the upcoming years. The world is getting smaller as millions join the global digital community and are lifted out of poverty. All of the learning at the University is not the end but rather, the beginning of what we will take in and process in life. Students are temporary but alums are lifelong and finally, carrying the name of the institution bears a certain responsibility as those in the past have given the school a good name no matter where they went in life.
These are the tenets that I held near and dear after my graduation the first time around, even if I didn’t realize it then. Having it codified in a stately manner off of the even statelier McKim, Meade, and White Buildings only allowed the words to ring truer to someone who needed to be reminded of them once again. My view from the steps overseeing the campus filled with graduates and family members was not the same as it was 5 years ago but that was more the case in terms of my mental perspective and not my physical point of view.
John Stuart Mill once said that a man needed to be made sensible and then he would be sensible at whatever profession he went into later on in life. I’d like to think that my education inside the classroom and outside it of it as well will combine to prepare me for whatever challenges await during my next job, or my next foray into academic pursuits. It was hard not to hear the cheers from the Law School, B-School, and J-School and not want to be a part of a future class that was ready and eager to change the world in a chosen field. By now, I had hoped that more would be in focus and that my time in undergraduate studies would be a springboard for whatever was in store for me.
Perhaps that still is the case. Rome was not built in a day and neither was the story of my journey to this point. I have to constantly remind myself that for all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making this day possible, that the end still hasn’t been reached yet. If my time at school has allowed me to overcome any obstacle that I have yet to face, then all the costs that went into it will have been well worth the time and investment that I’ve had to recoup in the intervening 5 years.
Which leads me to my writing. Most of the people reading this were nowhere to be found when I pushed the first domino by starting this page and as much as I enjoyed having my family in the stands to witness the pomp and circumstance earlier this week, I have also delighted in getting to know so many interesting and eccentric people that have entered and left my office on wheels and out there in cyberspace throughout this big wide world. I couldn’t have seen this coming when I was handed my diploma and who knows where everyone will be 5 years from now when I march again?
I thought all of that to myself as we sang the Alma Mater to end the ceremony, right before the graduates let out giant cheers to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. With a slight bop on my way back up the Low Library steps and a few moments of downtime before taking my garb off, I sat with my cup of decaf and reflected on everything and everyone that made this moment possible.
And then it was off to start writing the next chapter of my life – one friend, one fare, and one day at a time; ready for all challenges and learning experiences yet to come.