The blue and white Commencement program looks new, even though it is thirty-four years old today. I flip through the pages until I get to my name. The names of the other graduates look strange to me now. I can’t even put faces to most of them any more, these people I spent almost two years of my life with on a daily basis. A young woman named Linda led our class into the auditorium. I didn’t even realize that she was a nun until that day, when she showed up in a black habit. Didn’t she wear jeans like the rest of us? Or maybe she only wore dresses? All I know is that I usually showed up in jeans and a rock tee shirt, with my ubiquitous bag of books and papers.
“To all persons to whom these presents may come, Greeting”
I look at my degree, the Gothic writing reminding me of the Cathedral of Learning, the iconic Pitt building where most of my classes were held. I am amazed that twenty-one is so hard to remember now. What did it smell like? I can remember the smell of hot dogs and chili from the Dirty O, the smell of stale books on the upper floors of Hillman Library, but what did the dark wood on the first floor of the Cathedral smell like? What about the arena, that bastion of hockey games and rock concerts, what did it smell like on that graduation day? Did it smell of promise? Of new beginnings? Did it reek with the sweat of hundreds of graduates, smiling nervously as mothers, fathers and other relatives snapped photos? Did it reverberate with the sound of shutters and glow with the lights from thousands of flashes? Someone in our class at passed out duck whistles. Once every name in our class had been called, we punctuated the applause with honks.
“All the rights, privileges and immunities thereunto appertaining”
It was one of the happiest days of my life. I had accomplished something, had obtained the education that could never be taken away from me. My mother, who had died in 1970, would have been proud. My father, who died in 1975, would have been dismayed. He couldn’t understand why I even needed an education, but he paid for it anyway. Six cousins attended the ceremony. My cousin Dickie took us out to dinner afterward at my favorite restaurant. What was it called? I remember having a party, dancing and laughing with my friends both the night before and the night of my graduation. But I would have to dig up my old photo album and search through the fading Polaroids to recall what I wore under my gown.
“In Witness Thereof”
It is sad to realize that only two of those six cousins are still alive today. Chancellor Posvar died a few years ago. Dean Epperson died last year. I don’t think I ever saw any of my classmates after that day. I haven’t seen anyone who attended those parties in years, since I left Pennsylvania for California in 1988. But I do remember that thirty-four years ago, I had my whole life ahead of me, a life full of overwhelming possibilities. Armed with my new Social Work degree, I was ready to change the world.
“Veritas et Virtus”
The world changed me instead. And that is the virtuous truth. But I can’t help but spend a few hours remembering the young woman that I once was, the young woman who, after a turn of the tassel, embarked on a still-evolving journey.
Dedicated to the University of Pittsburgh Bachelor of Arts in Social Work Class of 1978