By Lynn Paris
Last month my daughter was awarded her BA in English from CSUN (Cal State Northridge) under a clear sunny sky in California. But this was more than just another sunny day, and in many ways more than just a Bachelor’s degree. It was a rite of passage four decades in the making, and as well deserved as any diploma conferred that day by California State University. It was my pleasure— along with her husband Michael and two of her closest friends—to be in attendance.
At first Jill hadn’t wanted to attend the graduation ceremony at all. Perhaps she thought she would feel silly going through the pomp and circumstance along with the mostly twenty-somethings graduating with her. Perhaps she thought she’d done the really important thing, gotten her degree, and she didn’t need the ceremony to know that. But her family and friends advised her that her college graduation was something she ought not miss; it was something to savor, bask in for a moment before continuing on with her teaching career and her studies.
We were right. When she donned that cap and gown minutes before taking her place in line, she looked like any other hopeful, fresh-faced twenty-one year old college graduate. Her smile was radiant, her blue eyes sparkled, and we could feel her joy.
Prior to getting in line, Jill had to pick up a recommendation written for her by one of her favorite professors. This woman was also her academic advisor, so Jill was unsure of the protocol; could advisors write recommendations? But the professor had said of course, she would be glad to, so Jill went and got it. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything so laudatory, so filled with superlatives and compliments on Jill’s academic achievements as well as her leadership ability, her kindness, and her moral character and integrity. It was high praise, but it too was well deserved. This professor obviously knew my daughter.
I have to admit to getting a little thrill whenever they play that song. You know the one, the song they always play as the Class-of-whatever marches in? DAH da da da DAH DAH. Oh well, it’s played at every graduation, but it still manages to get the crowd giddy, scanning the sea of black caps to spot their loved one. I was doing it along with everyone else. It’s funny, because I’ve seen Jill on stage, on television, on film, and yet finding her smiling face in that crowd was every bit as exciting.
Jill went to college the normal way, right after high school. She attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts on an acting scholarship. She’d known from the time she was 4-years old that she wanted to be an actress, but after two years of pretending to go to college, she knew she did not want to be a student. So she left NYU, came to California and went to work. And she landed parts quickly—she was young, beautiful, and talented—and had a nice career as a working actor for about twelve years. But by her early-thirties, she was too old to play ingénues and too young to play what she could easily have been—a young mother—so the parts grew fewer and farther between. And Jill grew tired of auditioning, and constantly being judged on superficialities like her appearance. She wanted to do something more meaningful with her life; she wanted to become a teacher.
When she finally took the plunge, she was understandably concerned. I knew the feeling well, having gone back to college myself after quitting at the end of my sophomore year to get married and raise my two kids. But I was able to transfer all my core courses, so my last two years seemed like a breeze. Jill had to start from scratch, at a junior college, and getting her degree seemed like an almost unattainable goal. While my husband supported me, and my two children were in school all day, I went to college “the easy way.” Jill had to do it while working in a restaurant managing and waiting tables the whole time. Oh, and she planned a wedding and got married at some point too. I admit that I never thought she would plow straight through, but she did.
I had told her that college was much easier when you’re older, and really motivated, and can benefit from all your life experience. I’m not sure if she believed me in the beginning, but she soon knew exactly what I meant. In fact, except for those obligatory math classes, she got all A’s. I also watched as her self-confidence grew, along with her love of learning and her burgeoning interest in history, politics, and current events. She went from being a good writer to an extremely talented one, and from assisting in the theater department to being a full-blown director for this year’s production.
So I, along with all the other proud parents, watched as my little girl graduated from college. But I recognized that while she’ll always be MY little girl, Jill isn’t a girl; she’s a woman. My daughter is a beautiful, competent, confident, thoughtful, happily married and well-educated woman, eagerly looking forward to the next chapter in her life. And yes, I’m very proud.
me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com