The day of my college graduation dawned clear and bright, another hot, humid summer day in Gainesville. The University of Florida Class of 1981 was going to be the first class to graduate in the brand spanking new O'Connell Center, across from the football stadium in Gainesville. The building design was new and with an inflated fabric roof design so unique that some people speculated whether it was sturdy enough to make it through a graduation. Twenty-five years later, we know that it has withstood several hurricanes as well.
My mother and younger sisters met me before the ceremony and watched me slip on my black graduation gown, over my dress. I stood proudly, brushing out the folds in the black satin as I bobby pinned the cap in my shining dark brown hair. I would be the first child in our family to graduate from a four-year college.
It hadn't been easy. I'd quit college twice, to work in the real world, both times returning to school despite the naysayers who told me once I quit, there was no going back. After a year of working fulltime and saving money, each time I'd returned to school, a little older and wiser, realizing the importance of a college degree.
My mother gaped at me in wonder, I thought, at the sight of her eldest daughter, all grown up. It turned out she had another thought on her mind.
"Didn't you press your graduation gown and hang it when you took it out of the box?" she asked.
"Was I supposed to?" I replied.
Actually, I probably couldn't have even told her just where my iron was on that bright and cheery morning when I was planning the rest of my life.
As I spoke, I straightened the folds of the gown, putting a little more muscle into my efforts to brush out those creases the gown had gathered while folded in the box. There, it was good enough.
For years, I had been told that it what was on the inside that really mattered, anyway. And, on the inside, this almost-college graduate was bursting with creative energy and ready to get out and change the world, through my words or in whatever way I could.
I did, indeed, find my iron and use it on a regular basis in my professional life. A chameleon, it was easy for me to play the role I found myself in at any given time, whether it be executive, wife, social do-gooder or even mom.
But, as Popeye would say, I yam what I yam. I have always been a doer, not a planner. Sometimes, this trait may cause me to leave the house with clothing lightly rumpled, hair not dry, putting lipstick on in the car. Or all three. The slightly rumpled look of my graduation gown did not hold me back, although if my goal that day had been to annoy my mother, it was a job well done.
Ahh, the exuberance of youth! The thrill of the chase! The lure of the future! The ability to judge when you are using too many exclamation points! It's all out there for the high school and college graduates putting on their gowns this month.
And for the mothers out there, a word of advice: If you want to make sure your graduate's gown is pressed, then do it yourself! Learn to accept your children and give them the encouragement to be their own Popeye.not a little image of mom or dad.
Sue-Ellen Sanders writes about family issues every week in the Hometown News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.