Monday June 18, 2012
Dressing for independence
But Then Again
By Mary Schneider
Fashion gave way to emotion on the day of her son’s graduation.
LAST month, I attended my son’s graduation in the United States. It was a big day for me and for the thousands of other parents in attendance. You could see the pride etched on everyone’s face as they took their seats in the university’s sports stadium and waited for the commencement ceremony to get underway.
As we sat there, thousands of strangers united by a common euphoric thread, the heavens parted, ever so slightly, and rain began drizzling on our collective parade. I continued to remain where I was, in the third row of some of the stadium’s most-coveted seats, refusing to give way to someone who wouldn’t mind having soggy hair, or streaky make-up or an umbrella spoke from the occupant of the next seat poking into their eyeball, if it meant they could have a better view.
While I waited for my daughter to return from her search for a merchandise stall, and my partner to make his way to the stadium from the visitors’ car park in Outer Mongolia, I listened to the animated conversations going on around me.
“I think he will still be wearing his shorts and flip-flops under his gown,” said one mother, obviously referring to her son. “I wish he would dress more appropriately. It will just spoil the graduation photos.”
“Photos? What photos?” said the woman sitting next to her. “My son has told me that he doesn’t want to participate in awkward, orchestrated moments. I don’t understand him. He’ll happily snap pictures of his feet, half-eaten sandwiches, and blood oozing from a cut on his finger, and then post them on Facebook, but it’s a struggle to get him to agree to a couple of nice graduation photos, something I can put in a frame to remember this day.”
For the umpteenth time, I thought about my own son, whom I’d witnessed (unbeknown to him) half an hour before, scurrying across the grounds of the university, his graduation cap and gown tucked beneath his arm. At the time, he’d been wearing a pair of below-the-knee shorts, a collarless T-shirt and a pair of sneakers.
A small voice had whispered in one ear that he would be changing into something more formal somewhere on campus. While another booming voice in the other ear told me that it was highly unlikely.
The previous evening, when I’d bid my son goodnight at the door of the house that he shared with three other students, it hadn’t occurred to me that I should tell him how to dress for his graduation. And as the drizzle began to clear over the stadium and give way to the sun, I was glad that one of my last conversations with him before he set off on the next phase of his life hadn’t been about his clothes. Besides, other than the obligatory graduation cap and gown, the university had imposed no dress code for the day. So why should I?
Ten minutes later, all the waiting parents were on their feet as the 7,529 graduating students came filing into the stadium.
Some were formally dressed, some wore jeans and sneakers, some wore shorts and flip-flops....
When my straining eyes eventually locked in on my son’s face, all thoughts of his clothes were gone. I was there to celebrate his achievement, and he could have been wearing a pink miniskirt and high heels, and I doubt it would have bothered me.
Actually that’s not true. If he’d been wearing women’s clothing, I’m sure I would have asked him if there was something that he’d omitted to tell me all these years.
After everyone had been seated, Sam Palmisano, chairman of the board of IBM and a 1973 graduate of my son’s university, delivered the commencement address.
He had a number of pieces of advice for the graduates that day, but the one that stuck with me went like this: “In the era ahead, as in all times of fundamental change, success will go to the bold. To those who see the opportunity to remake their world, rather than just fit into it. Maybe the best decision for you is to run away and join the circus ... but don’t model yourself on one of the animals, performing tricks for the trainers who throw peanuts. Think independently ... be passionate about something ... and go where the learning will be most intense.” Great advice indeed.
Later, as I strategically positioned myself to get a good photo of my son walking across the stage to be congratulated by the university’s president, my heart began beating rapidly in my chest, and my hands started shaking. How was it possible that 22 years had gone by in the twinkling of an eye?
From zero to independence in 30 seconds, or so it seemed.
“Please don’t pass out and embarrass him,” I whispered to myself, as unexpected waves of emotion crashed over me.
In the end, it was my partner who took the photos, while I cheered on from the sidelines.
I now have a couple of candid shots of my independent-minded son walking across the stage, with his cap set a little crooked on his head.
Not that I would ever mention it to him. Not ever.