|Shaking hands with the President Dr. Anthony J. Catanese|
It’s been a long journey, both bumpy and smooth, but eventually I made it through
My alarm began to beep rather obnoxiously; it was 7 AM, Saturday morning of May 7, 2011-the commence day! I had to be 'checked in by 8:30 AM' according to the email received earlier the other day. In about 40 minutes later, I and my roommate (a grad student from Thailand) got checked in, and headed to the waiting room before we proceeded to the actual commencement hall. "What is your department and your last name?" stared a lady seated next to a bunch of files and ropes. "Mathematical Sciences, Wangdi" I replied trying to spot my name on the check sheet. "Cum Laude!" says the lady handing me a little more than a meter long white-rope, "678 is your seat number". I didn't know what that rope was until a Chinese friend said "oh thats an award, congrats!"
Moments later, I was in the waiting room flocked by soon-gonna-be graduates exchanging words and snapping pictures. I scanned through the neatly arranged rows of chairs looking for my seat and finally found my seat-at the very back (second last row). I greeted a very good friend of mine who was already seated a seat away from mine. Gradually more and more students in gown poured in and the hall packed. While some shy people like me remained quiet and silent, some seemed to have moment of their lives shouting and screaming at the top of their voice. A little overweight dirty blonde haired guy who was seated right behind me was the most vocal or outspoken. "Surprisingly, I am gonna miss you guys!" says he to his friends as a matter-of-factly and continues “Probably I am never gonna see you guys again!” An excited looking girl replies “I didn’t really like you guys that much, but surprisingly I think I am gonna miss you guys too!” A few laughs ensued.
In a meanwhile, a lady stepped on the podium and began to say something. I say ‘something’ because like many others who were seated at the back row, I couldn’t catch anything that she spoke. I could only hear someone shouting “Can you say that again?” or “What did you just say?” from the back.
The wait was so long that I already began to feel bored. My back began to pain, and at the left, I noticed my friend stuck in the same condition; her look conveyed it all. The situation couldn’t get any worse- sitting next to a smoker and putting up with his smoke-breath was awful. I am not being dramatic, but I felt dizzy seriously. My cheap Armitron watch registered the time as “10:00 AM” when we finally made a move in line: PhD candidates up in the front followed by Masters and Bachelors students. The sight of the train of graduates making their way into the commencement hall in line was so spectacular that I attempted to catch a shot when I suddenly heard a female voice “Hey, hey!” Disturbed, I looked back to find a red-haired girl smiling “Your shoes are very interesting-looking!” Not knowing if that was meant to be good or bad, I simply replied “Oh thanks!” without disrupting the move. On the way leading to the hall, we were greeted by professors and well wishers lined up along the path.
At 10:30 AM, we were in the hall seated on our respective seats surrounded by hundreds of people-someone’s family members, parents, friends, grand children, and kids. Shortly after the US anthem was sung, numerous speakers took their turn to the podium. One of the speakers, our university President Dr. Catanese informed the gathering “…today 1107 graduates are graduating in various fields…” and he went on to say some good things about university for the next thirty or so minutes. I didn’t have much complaint about him whatsoever, but the next speaker whom I didn’t even bother to check the identity bored everybody to death. His speech was not only long but ridiculously boring full of political issues. He even declared that “Obama is the smartest President ever to be seen…” crediting for cracking Osama Bin Laden! At one point I even wondered if he was campaigning for President Obama already. If it weren’t for a girl next to me who kept screaming, I would have dosed off into a deep slumber!
Of course, however, about an hour later his speech came to an end much to the relief of both graduates and audience! “FINALLY!” someone screamed from the crowd, sarcastically with the mixed of applauses. One by one the graduates were called on the stage, ‘Dr.’ title conferred to PhD candidates and others awarded the certificate. And the awardees made their way back to their respective seat. Unlike fellow graduates who had flocks of friends and family cheering and shouting their names when they were called on the stage, when my name was called, a complete silence ensued as expected! Sad! No ‘special person’ (as my friends like it to be put) for my graduation! How sad! Stepping on to the stage overlooked by thousands of people was both nerve-racking and exciting. “Great job!” the President, attired in a thick red gown and round black cap, congratulated me! On the way back I was made to pose several times and moments later I arrived back to my seat as a GRADUATE!