Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Memory and a Milestone

My parents posed with me after I received
my master's degree from North Texas in 1991.

Today is a milestone for me.

It was on this day 20 years ago that I received my master's degree in journalism from the University of North Texas. That was a proud moment in my life.

Sometimes I must admit that it all seems like a dream. Maybe that is a by–product of the passage of time. The farther removed I am from an experience, the more it seems like another lifetime — and, in a way, it is.

I will always remember that day. It was a moment of real triumph after what had been maybe the most challenging year of my life — at least, to that point.

It was special, too, because I was able to share it with my parents. For reasons that I would rather not discuss in great detail, I didn't participate in graduation exercises when I received my B.A. The story is long to tell, but it boils down to some administrative snafus stemming from the fact that I transferred to the University of Arkansas midway through my sophomore year.

I eventually got my degree, but it was issued three months after I completed my degree work, and I had relocated roughly 150 miles away where I was working as a general assignment reporter. I didn't participate in my graduation ceremony — the U of A mailed my degree to me — and my parents didn't get to see me walk across the stage to accept my B.A.

It was, to put it mildly, anticlimactic to open an envelope and take out my degree. Boom! You're a college graduate. I always imagined hearing my name called out and walking across a stage to accept my degree. Never dreamed it would be like that. It was no more special than opening the monthly telephone bill.

But I was able to share this day with my parents 20 years ago — and, for that, I will always be thankful. My mother has been gone for more than 16 years, but she saw me walk across that stage. It was the fulfillment of her dream for me as well as my own.

And it is a memory that means everything to me now.

She and my father posed with me after the ceremony was over. You can see the picture at the top of this post. That is an irreplaceable souvenir for me.

It was kind of a typical December day in Texas, as I recall — a little chilly, overcast, a bit windy. It was the kind of day that reminds you that Christmas is coming, which, in turn, reminds me of a story.

For those of you who don't know it, when a person receives his/her master's degree, the ceremony is usually called a "hooding."

I know that may sound like some kind of Ku Klux Klan ritual, but it isn't.

If you look closely at the picture, you may notice a splash of red around my neck. That is neither a cape nor a muffler or scarf of some kind. (It isn't blood, either, although I often felt, as I pursued my master's degree, that I was shedding plenty of blood.)

It is a hood, the academic dress of one who has earned a post–graduate degree. The hood is in the color of your academic major. I don't know if that varies from one American school to the next, but, when I got my master's at the University of North Texas, the color for journalism majors was red.

The traditions of academic regalia originated in the medieval universities of Europe, and the colors may vary from school to school.

Consequently, I don't know if red is the color for journalism master's or doctoral students at other schools, or if that is just the designation at North Texas.

My understanding, in fact, is that not every school has a hooding ceremony for its master's and doctoral candidates; the ones that do seem to follow their own rules.

Thus, the conclusion is unavoidable that journalism majors at other schools that do have hooding ceremonies may use different colors.

In at least one country, red is the color for those receiving post–graduate law degrees. I definitely wasn't a law student, but I did have to study communications law (and that really does have more credibility than spending the night at a Holiday Inn Express).

Hoods also tend to have the primary color of the school where the degree was earned, and, at North Texas, that color is green. That meant that my hood was red and green — Christmas colors.

My mother pointed that out to me when I picked up my graduation cap, gown and hood shortly before the ceremony. That appealed to her sense of order, I guess. She loved the Christmas season, and she was pleased that my graduation came during it (even though that happened only because a close friend of mine was diagnosed with lymphoma that spring, and I put off finishing my degree work until after his death that summer).

I'm teaching journalism as an adjunct at the local community college these days. I haven't worn my gown and hood in years, but it hangs in my closet, and I see it from time to time. On those occasions, I am reminded of that period in my life, of that accomplishment for which I worked so long and so hard.

Of course, I can be reminded of that at any time. My master's degree is on a shelf in my apartment, and I see it every day.

But seeing the gown and hood that I wore on that day is different.

It's like a tangible link to my past.

Of course, the degree itself is, too, I guess — but not really.

The piece of paper that I was given when I walked across the stage on that December Saturday afternoon in 1991 was kind of an academic I.O.U., a promissory note. My degree would be mailed to me, it said.

It was like one of those dummy hand grenades that soldiers use in basic training — the ones that look official on the outside but are totally ineffective.

My memory is that I received my actual degree — the one that sits on my shelf today — a few weeks later. There was no extended wait for it, but that wasn't what I was holding in the picture you see attached to this post.

That was the dummy, the prop for pictures such as the one for which I posed with my parents.

The actual souvenirs that I have from that day are the graduation program (which I have somewhere although I can't put my hands on it right away), my gown and hood and the photo you see with this post.

And the memories they evoke.

No comments: