Graduations are not just important for the accomplishment that they celebrate, namely graduating from this program or that. They hold much more importance for the families of those who accomplishments are contained within robes, tassels, caps, hoods and hats.
My sister died just one month shy of the graduation celebration where she would have gotten her master's hood and medal for graduating with honors. Though she was a late bloomer academically, my sister had the drive and work ethic of a horse. Once she put her mind to it, just get out of the way.
I wish I had that kind of certainty or fortitude ... I may be good at some things, but my mind wanders into the abstractions too often to be truly focused as she was.
In the wake of her death, and the circumstances so tenuously aligned with any reality we could understand, that she could not participate in the graduation became our focus.
I started to work on the powers that be as soon as I could, finally getting folks to agree to allow my niece to fill in for my sister. There were highs (meeting, albeit via internet, her colleagues and people in the administration of her program) and very low lows (last minute denials and changes of plans).
I was in Tennessee when someone called me to tell me that my niece could not participate in the honors ceremony. It hit me hard, like losing my sister again, and I endured the disappointment of my brother-in-law like my heart being wrenched from my chest.
Ultimately, after an impassioned letter from my brother-in-law via email to the university, my parents, my brother-in-law and niece were allowed to sit in the VIP section and my sister was mentioned in the university president's remarks at the honors ceremony.
And she walked the line with my sister's classmates (who all wore pins with my sister's graduation picture on them) to get the diploma.
It is the smallest of victories that I don't even have the right to claim. But she applied ... she understands that a bachelor's degree is necessary for the next phase of her life ... she sees the value of believing in herself ... and these are her victories, not mine. I have held her hand, cajoled, threatened, and given many lectures. The rest is up to her.
I will always be here, cheering her from the sidelines.... wishing my sister were with me. This journey is hers, and hers alone ... and that is how she will remember it, as a personal triumph.
Here is another story that demonstrates the greater importance and significance of graduations -- it's not just me, I promise.
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