Time passages: A graduation, a wedding, a reunion

Had I but world enough and time, as the poet said, I wouldn’t have taken three months off since my last entry. But I’m back on the blog here at the end of the school year, and my summer resolution is to make this a harder habit to break.

Anyway, this seems like an opportune time to jump back in, as the last week or so has been a time worth writing about — filled with life’s rituals, milestones and transitions. May is always a bittersweet month for Jayne and me for several reasons. Jayne’s father and both of my parents — my Mom a year and a day ago — passed away in the month of May, as well as our dog, Pica. But Jayne and I also celebrate our anniversary on the 25th of the month (also the birthday of our chocolate Lab, Mocha) — so there are both sad and happy observances throughout the month for both of us.

For me, May also means Graduation Day at Wingate (http://www.wingate.edu) , and it was held last Saturday, May 12. It’s meaningful to me to celebrate with students and their families and friends the accomplishment of earning (and that is the right verb) a college degree. But, sadly, I also say goodbye to day-to-day relationships I’ve cultivated with these young or young-at-heart people over the previous four years. Well, sometimes it’s five and in a couple of memorable instances, six. But I digress.

Wingate’s graduation is held the Academic Quadrangle in the middle of campus, a wonderful outdoor setting for an academic ritual. Out of 13 I’ve been involved in, none have been driven indoors by rain. The weather has usually been sunny, which can be a mixed blessing. The academic regalia worn by professors was orginally designed in medieval times to keep lecturers and students warm in drafty old university buildings in places like Oxford and Gottingen. The inventors of these outfits certainly couldn’t have envisioned their use in North Carolina in May. But this year the day was mild, and in response to popular demand and to accommodate an increasing number of graduates, the ceremony began at 9 a.m.

The ritual is largely the same every year. Graduates enter the Quad marching through two lines of faculty members, where we get to offer congratulations and sometimes get handshakes and hugs in return. (It’s nice for faculty, as it helps us get a chance to speak to graduates that we may miss following the ceremony. Some families leave pretty quickly when it’s all over.)

Awards are announced for outstanding students and two faculty awards were given. I received the Charles and Hazel Corts Teaching Award for 2007. Walking across the stage to receive the award from Dr. Jerry McGee, the university’s president, was a proud moment, and I appreciate the nomination from a group of my former students. (Jayne knew about this for two weeks beforehand and never let on. Amazing and I’m proud of her, too.)

There’s a commencement address from the executive director of the N.C. Pharmacy Board, occasioned by the university’s first graduating class from our School of Pharmacy. Then the proud moments for the students and their families as the procession of graduates begins. (A note on etiquette: This is a big day for every family present, the culmination of lots of sacrifice and effort by lots of people, and I don’t begrudge folks hootin’ and hollerin’ a little as their graduate gets his or her diploma. But please leave the air horns and noisemakers at home the next time you go to a graduation.)

It actually goes by quickly and afterwards I search for graduates and families. It always makes me feel good when they want me to be in their pictures and introduce me to Mom and Dad, etc. And every once in a while you get to be a part of a post-graduation lunch, reception or party. This year I was privileged to be invited to a luncheon for Willmarie Davila, an intelligent and personable young woman from Puerto Rico who has a bright future ahead. I appreciate her making me a particpant in her special day.

Last Saturday was also a special day for two members of Wingate’s Class of 2004. Kelly Hinchcliffe and Justin (better known as “Quiz”) Quesinberry are former students of mine and now two fine young professionals in TV journalism. Kelly’s a Web editor for WRAL.com (http://www.wral.com) in Raleigh and Justin’s a reporter for WFMY-TV (http://www.wfmy.com) in Greensboro. They were married in Justin’s hometown of Black Mountain, and if it hadn’t been on Graduation Day I certainly would have been there.

Wingate’s long-time Dean of Students, the late Don “Deano” Haskins, once referred to our school as “prime marrying ground,” noting the number of students who found their mate while enrolled at Wingate. That’s what happened with Quiz and Kelly, who worked side-by-side on The Weekly Triangle student newspaper and WUTV, the campus television station. And they’ve been together ever since.

I understand that the honeymoon trip was to Walt Disney World, a place neither of these young adults had ever been. Hope you enjoyed the Caribbean Beach Resort, guys. (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/resorts/resortOverview?id=ResortOverviewPage)
Congratulations, and best wishes for many years of happiness.

Finally, this past Saturday was the occasion for another gathering, the first Gordon family reunion in quite some time, held in Asheboro. I was about to say “Jayne’s family,” but that’s not quite right. Contrary to what some folks think, when you marry, you DO marry an entire family. And I have to say that I married well in that respect. I look forward to these events — Jayne’s cousins Mark and Polly Sisk hosted this one at their lovely home — and to getting together with people that I have come to regard as “my” family, too.

My life as Jayne’s husband has been a good lesson in being a family member, as odd as that may sound, as I think it’s very much a learned behavior when you join a new one. I quickly had to get used to a group of folks much different from my more reserved immediate family — Gordon gatherings were noisier and my early impression was that if there was a thought, it was almost without exception expressed.

That was different from my family’s posture that if we didn’t talk about something, it didn’t exist. I have come not only to accept those differences, but to revel in them. Twenty-two years in, I’ve pretty much learned, not only who everyone is, but the history and the lore.

Like all family reunions, this one had plenty of good food — barbecue, fried chicken, our pork tenderloin and barbecue beans, countless casseroles, vegetable dishes, cakes and pies. And by my count, we could have supplied a deviled egg to each person in Randolph County.

All that and hayrides for the kids and one sweet dog named Dixie that managed to get into most of the pictures.

But my lasting impression of the reunion was of the family members gathering in a living room to watch a DVD produced by Mark and consisting of nearly 250 photos from the mid-1920s to the present, a family history rolling by in a slide show, with the old standard “Memories of You” as background music.

We had great fun identifying all the folks in the pictures, or wondering when and where that was taken and just who the heck that was in the picture with so-and-so? They brought back memories of vacations, birthdays, weddings and reunions past, and brought some misty-eyed moments over some loved ones who were no longer around. And nearly everybody had their moment as the object of good-natured kidding over Sixties, Seventies or Eighties hair or clothes. Did we really look like that?

The answer is that we did, and it’s a part of who we are now. Like Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

So be thankful for all the little rituals — the reunions, the weddings, the other special days — that help us remember what’s happened, to anticipate what the future holds, and to appreciate the precious here and now.

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About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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