The dreaded long walk to “freedom.” I knew that crossing the stage for graduation would feel like walking the plank, and after spending four years working just hard enough to end up there, I regretted every credit I had successfully earned.
Most of the communication with my family had been one-sided for my college career, with them being very interested in my life and new ventures while simultaneously being worried about my health due to my credit card statements featuring too-frequent trips to liquor stores and emergency rooms. I always knew the beautiful and acceptable self-absorbed lifestyle I adopted had to come to an end, however, and while I fulfilled the promise I made to my mother about making it to graduation, one of my biggest hurdles would be literally making it to graduation.
The College of Business at my school makes up a good portion of each graduating class. The size difference creates such a disparity between the other majors, in fact, that business students have their own graduation day. They put on their caps and gowns and walk away from the good life early on Friday night while the rest of us show up to our individual colleges’ graduations around campus the next morning for 9 a.m. ceremonies. All this setup is to get across the point that a massive amount of my friends would graduate the night before me. I never quite realized how dangerous this could be.
Graduation weekend rolled around. Extended family had flown in from across the country, my nuclear family was driving up to my school from over two hours away, brunch reservations were on the books, etc., and all of these people were showing up specifically to see me at this glorified social funeral. Pretty depressing if you think about it. Friday comes, and as the sun starts to set both figuratively and literally on our college days, over half of the boys report to campus for their graduation.
The parties after graduation ceremonies are always pretty weird. Girls seem to sob their eyes out to the point of intense dehydration, some brothers want to give long, dramatic goodbye speeches all night, and we all have to come to terms with the fact that the party is finally over for the seniors. But on that Friday night, after many of my brothers had already officially graduated, the partying wasn’t over; far from it. We drank hard and heavy. We yelled, we spilled, we bled, we lived. My last semi-clear memory of the night was attaching a bungie cord to my belt loop, hooking the other end to my friend Leo’s shirt, and trying to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction in an attempt to drag him around the party like you’d see in a cartoon. Leo detached it almost immediately, and I ran face-first into a wall. Quality night.
I awoke the next morning to a phone call from my mom.
“I don’t need a wakeup call, mom. I’m an adult for Christ’s sake.”
“Okay, honey. I just wanted to make sure you were on your way. We’ve been trying to reach you; we’re in our seats.” she said.
I hung up the phone fairly confused about the call, but just chalked it up to her incessant need to arrive early. I stared at my phone for a few seconds as the blurriness in my eyes began to fade, and realized I had missed 13 missed calls from her before that. After a few seconds of processing, my donkey brain saw that it was 8:37 a.m.
Well, looks like those alarms I set didn’t work. Did I even remember to set them? I ran to the room next door and woke up Leo, because I am extraordinarily responsible. We were in a frenzy trying to get dressed and out the door, and during said frenzy I realized I probably should’ve acknowledged those messages my mom had been sending me for weeks urging me to iron my shirt. Leo takes off on foot — no cap or gown in hand — and left no clues as to whether or not he was heading to graduation like that. Even though I looked like I was dressed for an eighth grade dance, I figured that it was as good as it was going to get so I got my non-graduating roommate to drive me to campus on the double (shouts to your 5th year, Danny).
We whip out of our driveway, hit the main drag to campus, and literally immediately come to a complete stop. The flow of traffic was non-existent; the road was flooded with people stuck traveling to the graduation ceremonies. Time ticks by, Danny makes a few jokes about us being idiots for getting that wasted the night before graduation, and I start to get nervous about the lack of progress we’re making. At 8:47 a.m., I decided that, mathematically, we’re just not going to make it on time, so I get out of the car and start running towards campus. I went down the giant hill that I hadn’t walked up since I was a pledge, across the busy intersections with cops directing traffic, and then it set in — I am still absolutely hammered. I ended up in a group of other graduates walking towards campus and started to think that maybe I wasn’t doing so badly; after all, these kids were in the same position as I. Well, turns out they were all heading to the graduation ceremony that was taking place in the stadium, and I had to keep running all the way to the quad. Touché, cruel Hades; touché.
As I was making it into the home stretch of my run at breakneck speeds, I answered my phone yet again to ensure my mother that everything was completely fine and that I was definitely going to make it. I followed the winding path, wondering how James Bond always sprints in dress shoes, and saw one of the big time deans of the university. This was the guy who delivered the address to incoming freshmen, gave just about every major speech on campus, and was an all-around key figure for my university’s PR. We made eye contact, and he looked astounded at the fact that I was clearly still on my way, saying only, “You’re gonna be late” as I shot him a wink and a finger gun.
I ripped into the quad and took a seat in a completely unoccupied row behind the rest of the kids graduating from my major. I checked my phone: 8:59 a.m. Buzzer beater. I win things.
I would go on to win something else a short while later: a sweet piece of paper that meant nothing because they mail your real diploma months later.
The actual ceremony flew by as I sat sprawled across three chairs trying not to vomit while texting my mom telling her that I knew I was going to be there on time and had planned it out very carefully.
If it was up to me, though, I wouldn’t have gone at all. I had agreed 4 years earlier to eventually leave paradise for the sake of a normal life; I didn’t need some big ceremony to rub that in. Had to go for mom, though; turns out there are other people in the world whose wants and needs you also have to consider in life.
As for Leo? Big props to him for running over to a girl’s house and borrowing her female-sized cap and gown — with its wrong color hood and bedazzled mortarboard — in order to make it to his graduation at 8:59 a.m. as well. I went on to find out that he had also sprinted to campus, meeting up with another one of our best friends along the way who, too, was on foot. Making it at 9 on the dot just wouldn’t have been the same; after all, we are responsible adults who get places ahead of schedule. Just another example of those privileged fraternity guys waltzing around and doing whatever they want without fear of consequence. One last win in the books..