Hail to Purple Hail to White
The last lines of Northwestern University’s Alma Mater sprang from my lips. I had just witnessed 96 master’s degree candidates in the Medill School’s Integrated Marketing Communications program walk across the stage. A handshake with the Dean certified them as professionals and alumni at the same time. With caps perched on heads, tassels swinging and gowns flowing – purple for them and black for me – we left the auditorium with advice and wishes for the future.
Getting dressed at home, prior to the procession, I discovered that my rental cap was too small. No amount of bobby pins could secure it. One head bob too many or even so slight would topple it to the floor. What to do? Luckily I remembered that my Mother’s college mortarboard sat in my dresser drawer. Evidently when she graduated from college graduates purchased their cap.
I found Mom’s cap in her closet after she died. It didn’t seem right to give or throw it away. She graduated top of her class from The College of St. Mary of the Springs (now Ohio Dominican University) in Columbus, Ohio in 1940. She went on to teach elementary school until she had children. She used to make us – my siblings and I – complete reading and math workbooks during summer vacations and had a black board in the basement for impromptu lessons. Mom was all about learning.
Mom’s cap was a perfect fit. I put it straight on top of my head, not tilted, just like Mom insisted a graduation cap should be worn.
“Do not wear it on the back of your head,” she would say. “I don’t care if you think it’s unattractive or crushing your hair, this is the way it is suppose to be,” she would add, adjusting my headgear and causing any one in earshot to check theirs. I wore a cap and gown for the first time during kindergarten graduation and even then Mom made sure I wore it “regulation” style.
I found myself repeating my Mother’s words to the young graduates.
“It’s meant to be worn flat. Really it looks better that way,” I said in a friendly yet knowing tone. “Lose the bobby pins and stand up straight and tall. It won’t fall off.”
We marched to the stage to the untraditional and rousing tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” This set the tone for a friendly and upbeat series of speeches. A student representative talked about teamwork, resiliency and an obligation to others. The keynote speaker, Shekar Swamy, a global advertising professional and faculty member, gave his five tips for winning in life, two of which I can remember right now, not that they all weren’t worth remembering, just because these two stuck with me.
He encouraged the students to always have an account balance of goodwill. To him this means building a reservoir of friendship and always looking to give more than you receive because when you find yourself in trouble, which he assured the class they would because that’s life, this account balance will come to your assistance.
He encouraged them to take a stake and to not be wishy-washy. This means that one should have a point of view and be prepared to support it. Don’t just blow the way the wind blows. Which make sense, for without an opinion or point of view, you’re left thoughtless on a windless day. Without a point of view you must depend on others for movement.
I didn’t have to attend this event on a 13 degree Saturday morning in December but I wanted to. Partly because of the pomp and circumstance even if the song wasn’t played. Partly to fully participate in a new role – adjunct faculty – at my former university. And mostly to tailgate on all the possibility and future momentum present in the minds and lives of my students. With my cap set squarely on my head, I felt squarely ready to go out and conquer the world…again.