It’s the day you’ve been looking forward to for four years– or in my case, six.
Graduating high school felt like a checklist. Math, Science, Reading, History? Check. Accepted to college? Check. Graduation? Check.
It was only the moment that I looked at my degree audit online that I realized I had done it. I graduated college. I have joined a league of people who have bachelors degrees. I may not have a Masters degree, PHD, or some kind of honorable certification, but I did receive a four-year degree. It wasn’t until I was online looking at the “COMPLETED” status under every category of my degree plan that the reality of this surreal moment hit me.
My graduation day felt too real to be real. That sounds crazy, but it’s the truth. Let me tell you why.
I woke up at 6 a.m. to the aftermath of a huge thunderstorm. There was no power in our house, and we had to leave in 45 minutes. So my mom came upstairs and handed me a flashlight for the time being, and let me tell you, it doesn’t get more real than shaving your legs when taking a bath by flashlight. I did kind of appreciate the ambiance, I guess.
6:15 a.m. My flashlight is dead. Go figure. Our power is still off and it’s not bright enough outside to use sunlight… plus I’m not going to graduation with hair that hasn’t been fixed. Nope, not me. So at this point, my dad has hooked up the generator and I’m in the kitchen curling my hair with my straightener. We also hooked up the coffee pot, of course, because me – coffee = scary. This all took longer than normal as you can imagine.
6:45 a.m. One of my shoes that I have already set out is missing. My new sister-in-law is running around trying to find it (welcome to the family, Jenna!) My hair is not cooperating and I’m trying to fix a cup of coffee to go so I can have it on the road.
7 a.m. The shoe has never been found, and I realize I spent so much time worrying about the shoe and my hair that I forgot to finish my makeup. Luckily, my mom wears shoes only half a size smaller than I do and I find a pair of wedges that will work. I grab my makeup bag and my coffee, and my boyfriend James grabs my cap and gown and we head out to his truck.
We encountered MUCH more traffic than we had thought (my 35-40 minute commute became an hour and 15 minute commute) and I’m fretting over being late, but hey, I had time to finish my makeup. My coffee is now cold so I’m not the happiest little graduate that could ever be.
8:15 a.m. We arrive at the school; traffic is terrible. I’ve been arguing with James to get on the feeder the whole drive and when he finally does, we get to go over 20 mph for the first time since the traffic started. He pulls up and we think it’s OK for me to get out until a patrol cop starts yelling at us. I drop one of my shoes so I’m fumbling to get it back on my foot and in the truck before the scary police officer gets to us. We pull up a little bit more and I’m able to get out with my cap, gown, stole and spirit cord all in tact and I say goodbye to James.
I spent the next hour mingling with all of my graduating friends, showing off my graduation cap and writing words of encouragement to the incoming freshmen class banner “Actually study! It pays off.” (I know, couldn’t think of a more genius phrase to write yourself, huh?) It still didn’t feel real at this point. We filed out. We walked in. I waved at the camera. We sat down. We listened to speeches… some were good, some weren’t.
I honestly can’t stand when they have congress people speak because they always sound like they’re trying to get elected. “This is a great university. Your degree means a lot. I am so honored to be with my constituents on this glorious day. God bless University of Houston and this great nation!” —Thanks. I’ll totally take those words of wisdom with me that no one else could have ever uttered because they were not generic at all. (The other speaker, our past Board of Regents Director was terrific, though.) And because my last name is in the R’s, I’m the very last of my public relations/PRSSA friends to graduate. Needless to say, my mood was a bit cynical.
I’m standing in line with my walk card and all I can think is, please say my name. Please say my name. Please say my name.
10:30 a.m. They say my name. I walk across. I hear some “woo!”s from our graduating class and it hits me a little bit. I feel a little better. All of this craziness from the morning settles and I wave to my family. I didn’t see James with my family, though. I put up the coogs sign, hug our Student Body President and good friend, Cedric Bandoh, shake Chancellor/President Rhenu Khator’s hand and walk around to take my picture. When I’m done, I see our PRSSA Faculty Adviser and one of my best professors, Professor Julie Fix, APR, Fellow PRSA, and give her the biggest hug and say, I did it!!
She assures me that yes, I did, and I walk on. I reach out to hug other professors and realize I know none of them and they aren’t mutually reaching out to me. I laugh awkwardly at the moment and walk past, where I see James, who came down to congratulate me close up and take a picture. I keep walking and my Grandad is further down along the side taking pictures of me. I go back to my seat and the excitement has finally settled in.
11:30 a.m. The graduation ceremony is over, but the rain is not. The outside weather has gone full-on JUMANJI and everyone is congregating at the doors, trying to decipher a plan. I can think of only two plans: 1) run or 2) stay inside forever.
We just quickly walk across the street to the parking garage and pack in my dad’s car to get a ride to the rest of our cars. On our way, James’ mom calls that she is at the restaurant but no one is there and the gates are closed. My good feeling started slipping away quickly. We had set up my graduation lunch a couple of months ago at my favorite restaurant, Rivas, and I have been looking forward to it all week.
We get to James’ truck and he can tell I’m on edge because I’m quiet. In my mind, I’m hoping it’s just a fluke. My mom finally gets a hold of the owners who say that their power is out. It ends up being out on more than half of the street. At this point, I’ve become silent because I was stressed the whole morning, still haven’t had coffee, and now my favorite restaurant is no longer an option.
I just tell James to drive in the general direction and my mind is blank about other good restaurants at the moment. So I start Yelping and Foursquaring restaurants in the area, and my mom has text me eight times asking if I want to go to some place called Michelangelos.
I can’t give her a yes yet because I need to investigate the place on my phone. Go figure. It takes me a few minutes but I see some good reviews, I know everyone is waiting to know where to go and I’m so frustrated, I just say, “Fine. We’ll go there.”
12:30 p.m. We get to Michelangelos. The place doesn’t look open. I see my mom inside and am relieved. There is a long table and when we go inside, I’m actually impressed. The restaurant wasn’t small, but it was quaint. It looked like an old house that had been made into a restaurant, and there happens to be a live oak tree growing through the middle of it with Christmas lights strung around and a baby grand piano. It was cute. James and I sat right in front of the tree at the middle of the table.
Everyone got there and settled in–we all quickly ordered because everyone was starving. My dad ordered some champagne for the table and toasted to my graduation… it felt good to finally join my older brother as another college graduate.
At this point, James asked me to stand up. I didn’t think I needed to stand up so I gave him a funny look. That’s when I saw a box in his hand and I jumped up immediately. He got down on one knee and my hand went straight to my mouth in that oh my gosh manner and all I could hear is my Grandma exclaiming “OH MY GOD!” as I’m looking down at him (for the first time ever.)
That’s when my graduation day also became my engagement day, and I said yes to the man I’ve loved for four years.
I also learned that no matter how terrible, no good, very bad type of day you’re having, someone out there wants you to smile. James knew I was going to say yes, but he said all the nerves came from wanting to make it an unforgettable, special moment for me. I definitely will never forget it. When he leaned over and said he would see if he could make my day better, I didn’t know exactly what he meant… but he definitely did.
…Then I Instagrammed 73980 pictures of my ring, like so: