The last lines of Northwestern University’s Alma Mater sprang from my lips. As an adjunct faculty member 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.
Getting dressed at home, prior to the graduation, I discovered that my rental cap was too small. No amount of bobby pins could secure it. One head bob too many or ever 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. Luckily we had the same hat size.
I found Mom’s graduation cap in her closet after she died. Her name was clearly printed on the silk label inside. 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 then instructed her children during summer vacations with reading and math workbooks, writing on a double-sided black board in the playroom. Mom was all about learning.
Mom was also all about dressing appropriately and when it came to wearing a cap and gown, the cap should sit squarely on top of the head. Flat, not angled.
“Flat is the proper way to wear the mortarboard. 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 meant to be.” I wore a cap and gown for the first time during kindergarten graduation and even then Mom made sure I wore it “regulation” style.
As the graduate students lined up to process into the auditorium I found myself repeating my Mother’s advice:
“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.”
Mom’s advice fell on deaf ears and many a mortarboard slipped and slid as the group marched to the stage to the untraditional and rousing tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Graduates held their caps on with one hand while shaking the Dean’s hand with their other. One cap completely crashed to the stage floor in front of the Dean.
Mine, however, stayed put throughout the conferring of degrees and a series of upbeat speeches that dispensed advice both thought-provoking ¬– have an account balance of goodwill¬ – and head scratching – don’t be wishy-washy.
Don’t be wishy-washy? What odd advice I thought at first. But then the speaker explained that the opposite of wishy-washy is taking a stand. He encouraged the graduates to have a point-of-view and be prepared to support it because without a point of view one must depend on others for movement.
As I pondered his words I realized that it was Mom’s strongly supported point-of-view on graduation attire that was keeping my cap squarely on my head and me moving across the stage confidently. I felt squarely ready to go out and conquer the world on my own terms. Hail to Mom.