He could see their lips moving but their words were obscured by the emotional fog that filled the auditorium. It was warm, hot even, under those robes. One after another someone else stepped to the podium to say their piece, to motivate and congratulate the graduates. He sat quietly, pretending to hang onto every word they expelled, in reality he was far away.
He was watching himself sitting at the kitchen table, again at two in the morning cranking out another paper, his face pale, his mind awash in facts and rules and equations and fear.
He peered over his shoulder as he sat in Caribou, tired, hungry, and desperate to complete an analysis of his business evaluation for his corporate ethics class, a third cup of coffee barely keeping him in the black.
He even saw the beads of sweat once again roll down his temples as he stood in Microcenter, while the tech explained to him that the virus erased everything, all of his files gone. He could see the terror in his own eyes as the color left his face and his stomach churned and made him feel sick.
He always appreciated education and saw the value of it, or maybe it was sheer fascination with knowing why things are the way they are and his need to inquire and investigate that led him to seek out first a certification in mechanical drafting, then an associates in science degree in architectural and mechanical design.
He took college classes even while he served his country, when he was stationed state side and was on patrol as an MP late at night he would park at the firing ranges and study, nothing in particular just subjects that peeked his interest. He even sought out other programs to attend like foreign weapons class and Arabic studies. And when he decided to leave the military service he enrolled and completed the police program at the Georgia State Law Enforcement Academy.
When he came home from Georgia with his first child he realized that he wanted to be there for her, he’d worked most of the first twelve months of her life thus far and that’s no way to be a dad he thought, so upon his return to Minnesota he decided to seek out another avenue, law enforcement wouldn’t jive with his priorities as a father he figured.
No one else in his family has a degree, college was never really talked about, his older brothers didn’t attend college, nor did his father for that matter…any of them. He got a full time job in order to support his new family and as the kids were born and they got a little older he returned to college, finally after working at the same place for seventeen years he found himself sitting in a chair in the middle of an auditorium, wearing a black, square cap, holding a diploma that says he has achieved the distinguished bachelors of science degree from St Mary’s University and he’s not certain how to feel.
There were times he wasn’t sure forgoing so much sleep was worth it, the late nights, the costs in books alone, going to work and then right to school, he missed his kids so much at times. It took a toll on his marriage; it took a toll on him.
Now he’s 48, but he’s also educated, he never really considered he would attain a BA degree, dreams always came at a premium for him, and often times the price didn’t match the payout, but today, sitting in that chair, his children and his girlfriend somewhere behind him, the feelings that well up behind his ragged ‘ol mask and blur his vision like rain on a dirty window are hard to swallow. He worked hard; he paid his dues and earned the pride that he wears on his face as he walks out of school and into the sunlight and into the welcoming, loving, supportive arms of his family and friends.