Saturday is graduation day. The ceremonial end to the 5-year graduate school adventure. I didn’t attend my MA graduation because getting a Master’s was never the point. At most, the MA was a consolation prize if I didn’t finish the PhD.
But I decided I should walk for the PhD graduation. If for nothing else, I’d do it for my parents. They put invested a lot of time, energy, and money into me – they might as well enjoy the pomp and circumstance.
And then I defended my PhD, and I felt nothing. I didn’t feel happy. I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything. And so I wanted to walk at graduation for myself – maybe by then I would appreciate the work I had done.
So when I told my family a couple months ago that I was definitely going to walk, everyone was very excited. My dad sent me a check to get the ridiculously expensive regalia because I “deserve the best.” My mom and aunt started looking into hotel rooms. My sister and I talked about getting take out from our favorite restaurant.
And then, slowly, the plans for a graduation weekend celebration unraveled.
First, my partner found out that he had to present at a conference the morning after my graduation. He’s going to the actual ceremony, which I appreciate, but directly afterwards he needs to head to the airport. It’s fine, I told him. My family was going to be in town. He didn’t need to be there for that.
Then, my father told me he would be driving up and back to the university in a day. This wasn’t really a shock – my dad tends to fade into the background when my mom is invited to things. He would come up early in the day and we could get breakfast before the ceremony, he told me. Then he’d leave after, and I could hang out with my mom’s side of the family. That’s fine, I told him. You do you.
My aunt and cousin bailed on me next. My cousin is starting high school this year, and she wants to try out for volleyball. Volleyball tryouts happen to be on graduation day. I didn’t know she played volleyball, but whatever. It’s totally fine.
In the midst of all of this, I learned that both of my advisors would be out of town on graduation day, and thus unable to hood me. One of my advisors will be at the same conference my partner will be attending. The second will be on vacation. Of course. It’s fine, I don’t need my advisors to hood me. I can find someone else. Really, it’s fine.
And then, yesterday, I get a call from my mother. Actually, I get a cryptic voicemail. “I need to talk to you about something. Can you call me back?”
I hate those kind of voicemails. What does that mean? Is it serious? Has someone died? A voicemail like that from my mom can mean anything from “what do you want for dinner” to “your grandmother is in the hospital.” I knew it wouldn’t be good news.
“So… what do you think… if your sister and I… come up early on Saturday and don’t spend the night?”
Are you fucking kidding me?! Now my mom and my sister too?
“Oh. Well, that’s what dad’s doing.”
“I know. I talked to your father.” The idea of my parents talking always weirds me out. They were married for 15 years, so of course they talked. But they’ve also been divorced now for as long as they were married, so the idea of them making joint decisions is very foreign to me. At one point in my life it was normal. Not anymore.
“We could go out to brunch before the graduation.”
“That’s what dad and I are doing.”
“I know. I talked to your father about it. He was fine with it.” I highly doubted this. I mean, my dad might have said he was “fine” with it, but I think he prefers to not have my mother intruding on the time he spends with his children. Though maybe I am just projecting my feelings onto him. I don’t like my mom intruding on my time.
“Okay. Well, that’s fine then.”
“Are you sure? It’s just that your sister is worried about the dog, and I have things to do on Sunday…” My mom could have – should have – stopped with the excuse about my sister’s dog. I believe that my sister didn’t have anyone to look after her dog, and I believe that she was afraid her dog would tear up my apartment. I didn’t need my mom to rub salt in the wound by implying that whatever she had to do on Sunday was more important than spending time with me.
“Really, it’s fine.”
It’s not fine. I keep telling myself that it shouldn’t matter. The night of your graduation isn’t traditionally a super big deal, right? There is no expectation that your family will spend the weekend of your graduation with you. But it does matter. It matters because I worked really fucking hard for this, and nobody wants to take more than 12 hours out of their lives to celebrate it with me.