Kudos, kiddos: Walk, for mom's sake
No. I'm not going to walk on graduation day. It's just not important." That's what my son said two years ago.
His fiancée, Amber, and I looked at each other, silently communicating that no way in hell would either of us allow such a lapse of protocol and decorum.
(Pssst, undergrads: The graduation ceremony isn't just for you. It's for your parents, the people who have shaped and underwritten your education– starting at birth with your Lamaze Footfinder puppet socks, without which you would still be searching for your own feet.)
Amber said to him, "You can walk, Waldo, or you can roll. Because if you won't walk, we will tie you up and roll you down the aisle."
My son has never been impressed by pomp or circumstance, and anything ceremonial that he's forced into he will distort with a Waldovian twist that has all the solemnity of a "Monty Python" skit.
Several weeks ago, graduation day arrived at Virginia Tech, and the families and friends of the political science majors had gathered in the auditorium.
We waited, and I prayed that Waldo would show up on time.
If he didn't make it, I had threatened to find another extremely tall graduate to photograph, and I would then PhotoShop Waldo's face in between the stranger's cap and gown.
My cell phone rang. My son confirmed that he had, indeed, arrived, and was outside the auditorium, lining up with his fellow graduates. Phew.
The ceremony commenced, and each student was handed a huge, diploma-sized envelope. As one of the graduates strode down the aisle past me, he reached into the envelope and held up his diploma for his parents to admire as they snapped his picture.
Because it would take a few weeks for the paperwork of independent study courses and transfer credits to be processed, I knew that, unlike his colleagues, Waldo's big envelope wouldn't have a diploma in it. Instead, it would contain a form to mail in for a diploma.
When it was my son's turn, a professor announced his name. As Waldo crossed the stage to receive his envelope, the professor leaned into the microphone again and added, "Soon to be a star."
As Waldo returned to his seat, I was the beaming mother: teary-eyed, thinking how far he had come– now that he's 26, and finally graduating from college (with high honors) and how his judgment has matured– since those irreverent teenage years.
What I didn't know (but found out later, at the reception) was that when Waldo returned to his seat, he reached into the diploma-less envelope, removed the form, then held the envelope up and, with a flourish, grasped the two sides and ripped it in half– to the horrified gasps of the cap-and-gowned audience around him.
As he continued to rip the envelope into smaller and smaller pieces, Waldo grinned at his colleagues, shrugged, and said, "It's just a piece of paper."
He never did let on that the envelope held no diploma.
I can only assume that his fellow graduates are now telling the tale of the lunatic ("'Soon to be a star'– as if!") who ripped up his diploma on graduation day.
And just yesterday, I was cleaning out my car and found (on the floor of the back seat) the form he was supposed to have filled out and mailed in order to finally receive a diploma. Apparently, Mr. Magna cum laude set it down and never gave it another thought.
Where did I go wrong?
It makes me queasy just thinking about what surprises Waldo may have in store for us in September, when he and Amber will unite in that mother of all ceremonies: their wedding.
Janis Jaquith is a free-spirit in Free Union.