“One Day, You Will Be on That Stage”
Reflections on Graduating as a Mature Student
I sat anchored like a buoy along with a roomful of parents, my head bobbing side to side, straining to see my son one more time as he strides with his fellow graduates to their designated seats.
It was Concordia’s 2009 Arts and Science convocation ceremony.
I shouted and called out my son’s name. The excitement made my voice reach higher octaves, which luckily blended in with the ceremonial windpipes’ incessant squeal.
My voice croaked a few more times, “Bravo!” and let me deal with all that pride in silence.
Then I heard it, quietly whispering within me, “One day you will be on that stage.”
My long-in-the-making decision to go back to school was confirmed.
Several years later, and at the same place, my throat bails out on me again, along
with my entire motor system.
I find myself this time behind the scene of Sir Wilfred Pelletier Hall, in line with my own convocation fellows, slowly approaching the stage to receive my graduating diploma.
The slow-moving line gives us a chance to take one more selfie, do one more prep, and pull at those slippery graduation garbs.
At this point, I allow myself to enjoy the atmosphere of accomplishment everywhere around me.
I muse at how I’m also part of this collective celebration—an elated feeling floods my veins, I am overconfident and slightly euphoric.
I shrug off some “mature student alert” glances directed at me. The usher had advised me at the entrance, earlier, to “kindly wait in the parents’ section.”
I dismiss the nervous flutter in my stomach and reassure myself; there is nothing to worry about.
“You are just going to get your diploma,” I pep-talk myself, mentally rehearsing my walk on the stage and taking notes from those meandering on before me.
At last it’s my turn to step on the stage.
I just stand there, dumbfounded, overtaken by a sudden overflow of happiness.
I finally move, like a swimmer trying to run through water to the shore. The resistance of the water makes the pace even slower.
I manage a few steps toward the announcer—stop one out of three—before leaving the stage with no escape to the safety of the dark auditorium; the spotlight, truly, was on me.
Finally, leaning over towards the presenter to tell her my name, hyperventilating, I fall short of breath and half-swallow my name.
In a daze I hear the crowd applauding to Angela Kovak.
Indeed, I, Angelina Kovacic, was going to miss my graduation ceremony in all of that internal frenzy.
Luckily, with what little is left of my senses, I notice the familiar face of a professor saluting the students off of the stage.
He smiles at me, with a bit of worry, but also with genuine joy at seeing me approach the “finish line.”
His smile seems to say, “You did it!”
With that reassurance, a calm washes over me like a magic spell.
I collect myself, determined not to let a little bit of stage fright ruin my chance to celebrate what got me onto that stage: my perseverance and the people who helped me along the way.
In a memory flash, I see myself sitting in the cafe on Crescent St. after seeing my children off to school, fixating on the Hall building and daydreaming of studying there.
I recall visiting random Concordia buildings, inquiring about enrolment procedures, all the while knowing I would not enrol for many semesters to come.
The glare of the camera lens brings me back to the present, and with full composure I reach the Provost in the centre of the stage to have my photo taken with her.
I stand tall and proud. All of the apprehension finally gives in to a sense of contentment.
Finally, I walk up to my beloved professor.
While gratefully shaking his hand, a bullet of appreciation hits me, and I want to extend gratitude to all of the professors that taught me throughout my years at Concordia.
A few of them are right there on the stage, witnessing the triumph of my hard work.
At this point, I do not want to exit. I want to take the microphone and say, “Thank you for everything, my dear mentors.”
My voice is ready, but apparently I have exhausted my allotted time, signalled to me by the eager young graduate now taking her turn on the stage.
I return to my seat in the audience, and images of my years at Concordia and the faces of my professors turn in my memory like a slideshow.
I recall taking the first class that was to determine whether I was fit to be a university student.
In the manner of a true freshman, I learned the whole Introduction to Archaeology book by heart.
I got an A-, to the disbelief of other students, but that success did set a norm I tried to live up to ever since.
I rarely missed a class, paying dues for my younger days when skipping school with alike rebels was the thing to do.
Some say mature students appreciate school more, and I am glad I chose my adult years to go back to it. I never took one single moment for granted.
All things considered, my professors made me work hard for my grades.
My Roman History Professor told me he noticed that I loved his stories, but he did not blink twice while giving me my first C+.
Regardless, I gained more knowledge than I lost in grades. His narrations still inspire my own storytelling.
I gained more with every new class and it eventually felt less like work and more like receiving gifts.
What I would not give to hear my Professor recite Aristophanes’s Frogs one more time!
Eventually, I was exposed to some mind-blowing works, like in my Australian Literature Class.
The engrossing class discussions initiated by our professor catapulted me outside of the box and into a more enlightened self.
I gained so much and while my mind races frantically to remember it all, a ripple effect of rising graduates from their seats reaches me.
I let go of the contemplation stirring within me and rise from my seat.
I don’t want to leave and let go of some of the most fulfilling years of my life.
Reluctantly, I turn my back to the stage and head towards the exit into the daylight of the foyer.
I embrace the enormity of this occasion, my graduation.
This is truly one of the biggest moments in my life.
This great day has summed up my efforts, sacrifices, and the wondrous joy of absorbing knowledge.
I will always find encouragement in the legacy bestowed upon me, through my years at Concordia.
Those years helped me dissolve insecurities, build an inquisitive character, and will help me continue my life in a more confident and fulfilling manner.