This was it. 4 years of study-packed days, nearly sleepless nights, and being pushed to brink of my intellectual, physical, and emotional limits (pretty sure I have stretch marks on my brain) had all added up to this moment–my college graduation.
As I stood tall and proud on the side of the stage, anxiously awaiting my name to be called, one prominent thought rolled continuously through my head, “Please don’t trip.”
If anyone is familiar with Patrick Henry College, you will know that it is a very prestigious academic institution that takes events such as graduation very seriously. All the senior’s movements had been carefully calculated and diligently rehearsed. There would be no cow bells, obnoxious whistles, or attention seeking stunts by over enthused graduates. Oh no, this ceremony would be characterized by an attitude of thoughtful reflection and a quiet solemnity brought on by the newfound weight of our post-collegiate futures. The distinguished war hero, Colonel Oliver North, a man for whom I hold deep respect, was slated to deliver our commencement address.
If anyone is familiar with me, you will know that I am a total klutz with a specific propensity for tripping. I trip at least once a day. (Not counting the number of times that I bump into and break various inanimate objects.) In the days leading up to graduation, I had half jokingly mentioned to several friends that I would most likely fall. We enjoyed a good chuckle, however, inside I understood that this was a genuine concern.
Now, as I stood seconds away from my moment of glory, I reminded myself to concentrate on my footing. At the sound of my name, I ascended to the stage with small, delicate steps. As it turns out, I should have been less worried about my feet, and more worried about my head.
All went smoothly at first as I managed to make it halfway across the stage without falling on my face, then a board member with whom I am personal friends stepped forward to wrap me in a bear hug.
This would have been wonderful, except for one small problem. The intensity of the hug combined with the voluminous nature of my hair sent my hat flying across the stage. The crowd erupted into laughter as I stumbled backwards to collect it and hastily smashed it back onto my head.
How embarrassing! I thought perhaps my moment of indignity was over until I noticed the painfully pale expression on the Provost’s face. He was grimacing and pointing with urgency back towards the stage entrance. My tassel had somehow managed to disentangle itself and now lay like some sort of hideous, golden squid near the stage entrance. Before I could move, the college President swished forward under the bulk of his colorful regalia and kindly grabbed it for me.
The crowd lapsed into hysterics as we tried to maintain an air of composure while he handed me my diploma.
I didn’t even bother trying to reattach the tassel as I began my second venture at making a graceful exit. When the college Chancellor stepped forward to give me a hug, the unthinkable happened—my hat flew off AGAIN!!!
The laughter reached a fever pitch as the Chancellor held up a hand and graciously offered, “Allow me!” I decided to fully embrace the madness and stepped forward to the front of the stage with the attempted poise of queen awaiting to be crowned. When he carefully placed it on my head, I threw out my arms in a gesture of victory. The crowd went wild!! You would have thought I had just been awarded an Olympic Gold medal.
As I attempted to exit the stage for the third time, I was greeted by Colonel North, who was laughing SO hard that TEARS were literally streaming down his face. At this point, I had abandoned all attempts at poise. I had never met this man before, but I was in a hugging mood, so I thrust out my arm for an embrace.
“Oh no you’re not!” he breathed between guffaws and lifted up a hand to stop himself from being the third person to de-crown me.
And you know what…I hugged him anyway.
And THAT, ladies and gentleman, is how I made an American military legend cry, and become fabled as the most ridiculous person to ever attempt to graduate from college.
The picture of the gloriously absurd moment in which I was “crowned” with my mortarboard would become the cover photo on the school website the following week. The school photographer presented me with a cd of pictures documenting the entire incident. He had hand drawn a picture of my hat and lovingly labeled it, “The Great Mortarboard Malfunction.”
Before I made my failed attempt to receive my diploma with some amount of respectability, I had been pretty proud of myself. Graduating from college, especially Patrick Henry College, is not an easy thing to do. Perhaps somewhere in my klutz of a brain, I had begun giving myself too much credit for my triumphant navigation through the world of academia.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about your accomplishments. The problem arises when we begin to believe that we are the source of our own success.
Micah 6:8 instructs us, “Don’t take yourself too seriously–take God seriously.” (1) God has downloaded each of us with a powerful and wonderful set of gifts and abilities, something to be excited about! We will only reach our maximum potential, however, when we fixate on the magnificence of God rather than the extent of our own giftedness.
Somehow, when we are the most wrapped up in the greatness of God, we become the greatest forms our ourselves.
We become who we were meant to be.
My greatest advice for graduates is to fixate on “God discovery” rather than “self-discovery.” When we busy ourselves with knowing and making Christ known, we will find that God has busied Himself with granting us a more fulfilling and successful life than we could have given ourselves.
The only way we can enter the next life with any amount of dignity is to concentrate on making God’s greatness known instead of our own. In the end, we are going to discover that we were never worth boasting about.
Those who poured themselves out for their are going to feel like fools.
I don’t want to be a laughing stock on Judgement Day.
I am guessing you don’t either.
I am also guessing that you don’t want to be a laughing stock on your graduation day.
So my second and final piece of advice is to ALWAYS wear bobby pins when graduating. ALWAYS. You can thank me later 😉