Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Graduate


Most people graduate from college in their early twenties. This was my original trajectory too. But circumstances and life choices sent me in other directions, and that elusive degree faded into the background while family and children took center stage.

I had always wanted to return to school. As my kids grew, I found many practical excuses to put it off. Finally, as my marriage ended and my life took new and unexpected turns, I found the fortitude to go back.

I started my new college career at Nassau Community College (NCC) in 2012. Hurricane Sandy disrupted my first semester, and despite its ensuing turmoil, I persevered that fall semester. Since my basic required classes needed fulfilling, I found myself in two math classes and two science labs. Ugh!

As I continued, I realized English was my real love, and I took as many writing and literature classes as I could. In the spring of 2015, I graduated Summa cum Laude from NCC. My Associate’s Degree, coupled with good grades and my being awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence offered me several continuing ed options. I was accepted into Queens College’s prestigious Transfer Honors Program and gratefully accepted.

In the fall of 2015 I started classes at QC, working toward my English major. While I took all requisite English classes, I also found room for other forays. Painting. Drama. Anthropology. Urban Studies. Creative Writing. Spanish. This colorful array of subjects added depth and breadth to my educational experience, and while I was mainly focused on my declared major, I discovered many, many pertinent tributaries within these other classes.

I did well at QC. My lowest grade was a B+ in Spanish -- a class in which I worked hard, whose professor was a motivated young woman named Ruth Rodriguez. Profesora Rodriguez was well into her first pregnancy when she taught my class, and, understanding my aging brain’s weakness for short-term memory, offered a number of extra credit options to bring up my grade. A week and a half before our final exam, Profesora Rodriguez went into labor and gave birth to a fine baby boy named Octavio. Several days later, we were shocked and saddened to hear that Profesora Rodriguez passed away, after suffering a post-partum stroke. A number of us went to her funeral services and did our best to comfort her husband, another QC professor. Sitting for her final, reading her questions, hearing her voice over and over -- surreal and heartbreaking.

The seasons turned and the campus took on the hues of autumn, winter, spring. The campus hawks flew around the quad, perching within close proximity, reminding me that flight and freedom were within my grasp.

My final semester was stressful. I was in the second half of my Honors English seminar. Theses were due and the final exam loomed as a daunting shadow over everything. I concluded with an A+ on my thesis and High Honors on my final -- better than I had expected. Our Honors Conference was great -- each of us presented excerpts from our theses and sat in panels to answer all manner of intellectual questions. Two weeks before graduation, I was informed by the Advising Department that, because I had 56 credits at QC instead of 60, I was not eligible for any honors designations. Together with my advisors and the college’s Vice president, we fought the ruling and, on the very morning of the honors Baccalaureate ceremony, I received my formal invitation to participate. Such drama, I could do without!



So, I graduated Magna cum Laude, a designation that would soon be upgraded to Summa cum Laude, after my final grades were recorded. My GPA -- 3.912 to be exact -- stands as testimony to years of hard work, and many late night papers.


In years past, whenever I would visit my kids at their respective college campuses, I always envied the atmosphere there. I longed to walk the quad, study in the library, get coffee from the dining hall Starbucks. Now I have done these things. And while that magic dust may have eluded me when papers were due and exams loomed, I must say that I loved every minute of my college career.

My white head was singular at graduation. Still, I felt an integral part of my cohort. My school friends -- brilliant all -- worked and walked with me throughout this journey, never thinking less or more of me than any other classmate. How wonderful. That black cap and gown, those honors stoles and ropes were worn with a grateful pride I had not yet felt in my lifetime. I am a college graduate. And I have to pinch myself each time I think of it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Graduation Day

I am graduating from Queens College next month. My bachelor's degree is 44 years in the making. I finished high school in June of 1973, and since then, my life has taken me on a roller coaster ride of twists, turns and unexpected bumps.

Yet, here I stand. Next month, I will don that black robe and mortarboard, a red stole and various honors ropes and tassels as I march with hundreds of my (way younger) peers onto Queens College's grassy quad. This journey, from 1973 until now has taken me on a safari. I started and stopped college. I joined a religious cult and spent the better part of 30 years adhering to its strictures, including a marriage to a fine man who became father to our five amazing children. My sexual identity, always in the back of my mind, came to the fore, and I finally came out. While this was surely a rough part of the safari, I emerged with no regrets and a renewed sense of self, of motherhood and of professional potential.

So, here now, I stand. This particular achievement (my graduation) will be attended and celebrated by those who matter, and I am totally stoked! On that day I will don black robe, mortarboard, red stole and various honor ropes and tassels. I will not only reflect on my own journey, but the varied path of my young cohorts who have striven to stand with me on this day. We have striven, we have searched and we have emerged unto this day victorious.

I may possibly be the oldest graduate to stand on the quad on that day. But we all stand together. Amen.