Toes that were pinched in purple climbing shoes twelve hours ago have been slipped into Aggie-blue heels this morning. My fingers fiddle with themselves as Mom taps the steering wheel, tells me how it had to be just yesterday when she was driving me to BYU. How surreal it is for this to end the same way it began: a mother and a daughter driving toward a university, one wondering how her daughter grew up so fast, the other trying to adjust to looming change.
She drops me off in the same exact place she dropped me off that first day. I step out onto Darwin Avenue, feet clicking against sidewalks I’ve crossed a thousand times, and I walk towards the Quad. There is a flock of us, like crows, gathered there. Black robes, black caps, white stoles, an array of tassels. I wait in line until the bell-less tower of Old Main begins blasting bagpipe music through its speakers.
And then we walk and we walk. Across the Quad, the TSC Patio, Aggie Bullevard, the HPER fields, the Spectrum walks. I don’t see Mom until she’s right next to me, running alongside me like I’m celebrity, being my biggest fan. And then I walk again, slip between the walls of professors that line the whole tunnel into the Spectrum, cheering and clapping and smiling and equalizing, scholars in their berets and colorful robes.
One of us is sixteen, President Albrecht says from the podium once we march in and commencement begins, and another is 66. All of us have the capacity to change the world a little.
Speakers, awards, each college standing and cheering for the study they’ve devoted themselves to. Of the humanities, the announcer says, They are the studies by which we understand the world and the human beings within that world. And I feel validated in that moment. Then the band in the back blares its horns and we are excited, waving our arms like a massive banner, pumping them up and down as we sing, “Show me the true-blooded Aggie from Utah who doesn’t love the spot where the sagebrush grows!”
And thus it begins.
I come home to a house decked in blue, white, and silver. Balloons on everything, cars marked up with “Graduate on board!” and “Please honk!” Kori plays the graduate march on her guitar, I play “Happy” and dance on the wooden floor in the dining room with the pugs. Mom sprays me with blue silly string and I cough it up, laughing. I fall asleep on the couch to 50’s jazz and a steaming enchilada. And I’m content.
Then it’s back up to campus again. Professors drape us in beads and pins outside, the English department’s small I love you. Thanks for being a part of us. The sun beats down and I feel as though I’ll hit the pavement, pass out, puke. We wait outside until we march, and once in the Spectrum, hundreds of people are clapping for us. I find my family and I feel secure knowing they are there among strangers. Then I imagine all of these strangers are clapping for just me. I see faces of Council members and friends I had creative writing classes with and the people who shared my experience in the English department. Who knows where they will go? Who knows where I will go.
We sit through generic talks, generic congratulations, the speech of our Valedictorian, who gets up and tells us that for the past four years we’ve heard nothing but “the Humanities get you nowhere,” who tells us that science and natural resources and engineering and business show us the what, but that the Humanities show us why it matters. That what we have to contribute to the world is our very understanding of it and the people within it. Beautiful reiteration that makes me feel confident.
And then they begin the procession. And I feel as though things are happening too fast. I step up to Dr. Graham, one of my last professors, who gives me a wide smile and an encouraging nudge, and says “Arianna Whitney Rees!” as I smile and fist pump and slip over to pick up my degree cover and pose for Mom, who has come down, all smiles, with the camera. Suddenly I’m back in my seat, ready to throw my cap. I never get to, because I guess they don’t do that in college, but in my head I’m flinging it so high that it becomes a massive shadow in the lights, the silver letters I’ve glued on top of it glittering like fire.
I am an alumna, an Aggie, a graduate.
USU is my alma mater.
Most importantly, I’m a member of a family who loves me and supports me and who I often feel I don’t deserve. Friends who encourage me to do amazing things. People who change me. The people that got me through four of the hardest years of my life.
Another chapter has ended.
A big, long, exciting, heartbreaking chapter that started with a twist I didn’t expect and ended on a cliffhanger.
Here’s to hoping the rest of the book blows our minds.