True wisdom comes to each of us
when we realize how little we
understand about life, ourselves,
and the world around us.
when we realize how little we
understand about life, ourselves,
and the world around us.
She made it! Julia finally made it to the end of her four-year-long journey at Irvington University. After years of studying, going to tutors and advisors, reading textbook after textbook, taking tests, writing essays, and taking two internships she was able to attain a GPA of 3.4 and was now ready to venture out into her career as a high school English teacher. Nevertheless, before she did that, she and five hundred other students were invited to attend the graduation ceremony in which they would be recognized for their accomplishments.
Julia stood dressed in her blue cap and gown in the hallway of Irvington’s large auditorium. Her cap and gown were comfortable, but her blue tassel constantly brushed against her eye and started to drive her crazy. Most of the graduates had on caps and gowns that were the same color and style as hers. However, those that had a GPA of 3.5 or higher wore black gowns and yellow cords on their shoulders to show everyone that they were part of the Irvington Honor Society. Julia looked at them with longing eyes and thought that if she had applied herself just a little more she could be walking with them. Nevertheless, she was content with the GPA she had.
With my blue backpack hanging from my shoulders, I walked down the sidewalk on the main street of Irvington’s campus with my stomach in knots. I had my orientation and a few meetings with the staff in the English department, but I still don’t fully know the character of the faculty and students here. Will I have to put up with any difficult people? Will campus life distract me from my studies? Will my professor ask me any questions in front of the class that I can’t answer? Will I have to suffer through any other embarrassing situations? A few people have told me that I have good writing skills, but will I be able to handle the workload my English professors will give me? And what about the science and math courses I have to take as prerequisites? These and other questions troubled me like a stalking murderer I knew I couldn’t escape. But I kept on walking and just hoped that God would help me tackle those challenges whenever I had to face them.
All the graduates were required to stand behind signs, in the long hallway she was in, that displayed the name of their major. She stood behind the sign labeled “English”. There were many other majors as well. In front of English was Economics and behind it was Environmental Science. Judging by the large number of students behind both of those signs, she inferred that a lot of students were attracted to those majors.
She then thought about the few actions Irvington’s website said students had to perform during the ceremony. All she would have to do is walk in line with the other students into the auditorium and after they were seated they would listen to each speaker give his or her speech. But Julia’s heart began to race when she remembered what she would have to do after the speeches. She would have to walk across the stage in front of over a thousand people to receive her diploma. Julia hated getting in front crowds, especially crowds full of strangers. She remembered how she almost broke out in tears when she gave her first speech in her public speaking class.
I hope I don’t trip over my own feet or something and embarrass myself in front of all of these people! Just calm down, Julia. You won’t even have to say anything other than a few “Thank Yous”. You can do this.
As I sat there in that dull, windowless room, I tried my best to follow his explanation of the long algebraic equation he was solving on the board. This was my second time taking this college algebra course, and when I considered how much I was struggling this time, I feared I would fail it once again. My professor was probably one of the coldest and most unhelpful professors I’ve ever had. On the first day of class, he didn’t even bother to say a simple “Good morning” to all of us. He never said anything about any time outside of class when we could meet with him and discuss any problems we were having with our assignments. He just told us to go to the Math Tutoring Center. Did he have any idea how hard it was to get help there? I remember I once sat in that center for over thirty minutes, and when a tutor finally came to help me, he could only devote a short amount of time to me. I stayed up late at night, sometimes into the early hours of the morning, trying my best to understand the material we were learning. But by the seventh week of class, I couldn’t handle the stress anymore. I dropped the course again and decided to come back to college algebra sometime in the future.
The ceremony began at 10:30 a.m. and the entire facility was bustling with activity. It was now 9:10 and not a single person with an English major, other than Julia, had shown up. Her solitude was ended about twenty minutes later when ten graduates came and started to form a line in front and back of her. Being the introverted person she was, Julia hesitated to introduce herself to them. But she forced her shyness to the back of her mind and spoke to one of the male graduates closest to her,
“Hi, I’m Julia,” she said raising her arm to give him a handshake.
“Hey, I’m Damien,” he said as he shook her hand.
“We finally made it, didn’t we,” Damien asked.
“Yeah, thank God.”
“My wife and son are glad I made it. I can finally spend more time with them. I plan to be a copyeditor. What do you plan be?”
“I want to be a high school teacher.”
“So, you like teaching”
“I love teaching. I love to share what I know with teenagers.”
“Well, good luck,” Damien said, and he stepped in line behind her.
The fall semester of 2014 was the semester in which I took Biology 101. My professor for this course told us that he had been teaching science courses since the 60s, so I assumed he was at least in his 70s. He was usually agreeable but he could be rather grumpy sometimes. I remember him almost going ballistic when he saw a student resting her head on her desk. He didn’t notice, and most likely didn’t care, that the girl was sick. He also had an annoying habit of constantly reminding us how lazy and ignorant many Americans are. I know America has tons of problems and there’s many things we young people need to improve on. But did he have to remind us about our faults every time we met? Sheesh!
We talked in depth about topics like plant life, ecosystems, biological evolution, and a variety of other topics. I struggled to understand topics like microbiology, since it was hard for me to visualize microorganisms. Yet even though I wasn’t too pleased with the grade I got in this course, I managed to pass it. I came out of it with a B-.
As time went by, hundreds of graduates and Irvington University staff filled the halls, so much so that it would have been quite easy for someone to get lost in the crowd. Julia had been standing in roughly the same location for over an hour and she was starting to get hot and tired.
Finally, one of the leading staff members yelled over the crowd that it was now time for the graduates to enter the auditorium. So they all straightened up their lines and proceeded forward.
As all five hundred graduates came in on the auditorium’s right side, a band that sat at the base of the stage played the traditional “Graduation March” song.
Damien asked, “Do you have any family here?”
“Yeah. They’re here somewhere,” Julia said.
Julia looked for her parents and her two younger brothers, who she had invited to come, and she saw them at the opposite side of the auditorium.
When all the graduates stood in front of their seats, one of the honor students took her place on the stage and sang the national anthem. After she left the stage, all the graduates were told to take their seats. The Director of Global Education then gave the invocation. After him, the chancellor of Irvington welcomed everyone to the graduation and congratulated the graduates for their achievements. After he spoke, the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs congratulated the graduates even more.
After the Vice Chancellor was done, the president of Irvington gave the commencement address. He told them that by graduating from Irvington, one of the toughest universities in the country, they were doing what many people in the world only dream of. Most importantly, he made a statement that stayed with Julia for the rest of her life:
“I don’t have to tell you to go out and change the world. You’re already doing that.”
The spring semester of 2015 was the semester in which I decided to tackle college algebra one last time, and I begged God to help me get a passing grade.
My professor for the course, who used to be a doctor in New York City, was a godsend. He told us our Math textbooks focused too much on things we would not be tested on. Thus, he streamlined the course and focused only on the material we needed to know for the tests. His intelligence, humor, and understanding made his class the most enjoyable math course I took at Irvington. Even though the class was still tough, I was able to comprehend what I was learning in his class far more than any of my other college algebra courses I took. I finished the course with a C. I've never been more satisfied with a C in my life!
The time Julia had been dreading finally came. Following the president’s address, the Regional Trustees, Academic School Deans, and Program Chairs began passing out the students’ diplomas, and they were the ones Julia and all the other graduates would shake hands with as they walked across the stage. One by one, each row of graduates stood up and walked across the stage to receive their diplomas and shake the Irvington staff members’ hands.
When it was time for Julia’s row to go up on stage, they lined up on the right side of the auditorium. Her heart pumped faster and faster as they got closer and closer to the stage, but she tried her best to keep her composure.
As she stepped up the stairs to the stage, her heart pumped so fast that she thought it might burst out of her chest. As she stood there waiting for her name to be called, she took a quick glance at the audience and gulped when she saw how large it was.
“Julia Avery,” the speaker said, and the audience gave their applause.
Julia took a deep breath and proceeded across the stage. After she was given her diploma, she shook the hands of all the Irvington staff members who were lined up on stage, one after another. After she shook the hand of the last staff member, she whispered,
“Whew! Glad that’s over.”
She then made her way through a door on the left side of the stage that led into a room where Irvington staff members took a picture of her. After that, she walked back out into the auditorium and took her seat again. After all the graduates were recognized, they were all told to turn their tassels from right to left to signify that they were now official graduates. The Vice Chancellor then told the audience to give a long and loud applause to the graduating class of 2017.
I sat there in the office of Student Affairs and waited for my advisor to call me back to his office. I knew I was now at the end of my journey at Irvington… and boy has it been a journey! I think I’m a different woman now, one who’s more mature, organized, courageous, skilled, and, of course, knowledgeable than I was when I first came to Irvington. I carefully followed the plan my advisors had laid out for me to help me complete my classes. But I needed to dot my i’s and cross my t’s.
When my advisor finally called me back to his office, we discussed the progress I had made in the last semester, we went through the entire list of required courses for my major and minor and we confirmed that I had completed nearly all of them. I only had two courses left.
“You’ve done extremely well, Julia.” My advisor said. “Other students aren’t as prepared as you are to enter the workforce. You’re definitely ready to graduate.”
I can’t describe how relieved I was to hear this.
With the ceremony over, the graduates were all told to rise out of their seats and were led by Irvington volunteers back into the main hallway. The students were now on their own and as they all stood there in the huge hall, the over one thousand visitors, mostly their families and friends, came through the entrance out into the hallway. As people filled the hallway, Julia realized that her family would have a hard time finding her in the crowd. Therefore, she stood by a column on the steps leading down from the auditorium so they could find her right when they came out of the auditorium. When they finally walked out, they made their way through the huge crowd and when Julia and her family finally came together, her parents greeted her with words of congratulations.
Her father, jokingly, shook her hand and said,
“It’s the graduate!”
She giggled and gave him a big hug. Then Julia’s mother, the woman responsible for helping her hold on to her optimism when she got extremely discouraged in her final semesters, gave her a hug as well.
“I’m so proud of you, sweety,” she said as they hugged each other.
Her little brothers, who were clearly a little nervous to be in such a big crowd, gave her hugs as well.
“We need to take pictures,” her mother said.
They looked around the hallway and found a quiet location by one of the auditorium’s main entrances and took several photos together. After they took the photos, Julia’s parents told her they were going to go get the food for the small dinner party her family had prepared for her at home. Thus, they separated.
As Julia went backstage to change out of her cap and gown, she saw Damien for the last time, speaking with his own family. When he saw her walking by he waved at her and she waved back. When she changed into more casual clothing, she walked out of the auditorium onto its busy parking lot, got into her car, and drove home thinking about her future as a high school teacher.
My name is Jacob Stubbs. I have a bachelor's degree in English from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and I am a writer an an artist.