Monday went by much better than I expected. We arrived at Lincoln Center around 2 o’clock which was just on time inasmuch as the Access-a-Ride fouled up big-time and picked us up 90 minutes late. My nervousness was getting the best of me and I was feeling constantly nauseous and with pangs to use the restroom. Hence, it was annoying to take off and put on my robe the zillion times I had to go to the men’s room before leaving my guests and being placed on stage nearly an hour before the academic procession began.
I had the good fortune of being accompanied by another wheelchair-bound graduate, an Asian student who was excited to receive her Doctoral in Mathematics. She was very happy to be able to get to this moment and be hooded. I was far too anxiety-ridden to think straight. Well, there was only one clear thought running through my mind:
“I really have to go to the bathroom.”
To the discerning eye the first part of the ceremony was absolutely wonderful and inspiring. The academic procession was filled with the faces of dozens of eager grad students, the speakers were wise in their anecdotes and advice, and everyone in the audience beamed with pride.
I smiled often, too, and at times I was very happy. Yet more often that not my worry was about how to sneak out quietly offstage and without attracting much attention to use the bathroom. I even turned the wheelchair on and off a few times without moving while reenacting the scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Cameron’s stuck in his car pondering whether or not to stay at home. (“I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go”.) By the time I knew it, however, it was time to place the graduate hoods on Master’s graduates. I sucked it up and dared not leave the stage since I knew I would be the fourth person to be hooded.
A tremendous relief swept my body as I was being hooded by the head of the Latin American & Caribbean Studies department. No, the relief did not come from peeing on the stage; rather it felt like I was being rewarded for overcoming so many obstacles since I entered NYU nearly four years before. It has been a very rocky road and there were many times when I wanted to quit. Yet somehow I held on and kept going, slowly but surely. I was ecstatic not only for myself, but also my teachers, classmates, friends, and family. I dedicated that moment to all of them, for their confidence, support, and generosity. I can never repay them, though that I will try.
As every graduate emerged on stage, had their name called, received their graduate hood, and posed with the dean for photos, I felt a child-like giddiness. To see the fruits of their labor culminate by being hooded was a privilege for me to be part of. The cultural, racial, and academic diversity they represented is something that will always remain etched in my memory. Although my graduation date will be this September, I felt like I was one of them and this was the just reward for so much sacrifice and hard work.
I thought about my dad upon leaving the stage after the ceremony concluded. I knew that he was very proud of me, more than anyone else I’m sure. I was always certain that he was by my side in spirit, smiling as every moment passed.
Now that convocation is done, I’m preparing for Thursday’s Commencement in Washington Square Park. It will be a dream come true for me and I’m very confident all will be well.
I haven’t been nervous since convocation ended and I doubt I will be tomorrow. Which is good because I will savor every second of commencement and enjoy the dream that will come to fruition.