Sunday, May 04, 2008

Commencement Inspired Reminiscenes

Time really flies when you least expect it. Before we know it, the Spring semester has ended. First, CE started becoming house-bound, meaning not going to the USF campus to attend lectures. Then WT's turn followed suit. And we drove to Gainesville today to fetch him back. And here are some photos taken on the trip, a typical sunny day with the normal load of traffic along the Interstate. The campus was relatively deserted as most of the student population had emptied out of the campus, including those living in dorms, as testified by the small number of cars parked outside Hume Hall, parents helping their kids to vacate their rooms as what we were doing. I can imagine the long lines of cars, sometimes even double-parked, if we were to come yesterday when the main bulk of the exodus would have occurred.

This is the view from the vantage seated position at the back of our minivan, kind of tailgating. That was what I did while waiting for Wify and WT to unload stuff from WT's dorm room, a mug of coffee by my side, and The Authentic Confucious (by Annping Chin, Scribner, NY, 2007) in my hand, learning the intricacy of the local politics of the day in Lu country (Confucious's home state) during the Era of Spring and Autumn (6th Century BC) in the long annals of Chinese History.
And this is the view of my tailgating position, the pad of paper on the rear bumper serving as my seat. The Happy Birthday balloon was meant for WT, who celebrated his 20th birthday just a few days prior.

And here are WT and Wify (swinging a pillow) in the thick of moving chores, the disparity in the loads patently in sight from their carrying actions (WF lugging while Wify toting), for obvious reasons.

The semester end period is also the time of commencement (back home it is called convocation) when college graduates rejoice, having endured several years of self-imposed exile wandering in the campus, and soon to be liberated into the real world. On our evening walk yesterday, we were pleasantly reminded of the jubilation of having tasted academic success and becoming newly minted members of the college graduate rank.

First, there were two policemen standing in the middle of the road, directing traffic to ease those coming from the Sun Dome. Then a throng of people were seen walking to the car park: old, young, all resplendent in their proper attire fit for attending a gala dinner of high society, inter-mingling with students in graduation garb complete with mortar boards. And yes, they had just attended one of the commencement ceremonies held at the Sundome for USF graduates. Wify even congratulated one of the female graduates walking past us who acknowledged the kind gesture with a beaming smile and resounding Thank you.

I remember reading in the St. Pete Times that there are more than 4,900 USF graduates this year. This is in stark contrast to the declining job market prevailing now that would make their job hunt that much tougher.

That also brought back memories of my own graduation ceremonies, which I managed to attend only once out of three opportunities. The most vivid and memorable one is of course when I went on stage to receive my bachelor degree at Chancellor Auditorium of University of Malaya, watched by my late mother, my wife-to-be and my younger sister. I think it was some day in June of 1978. Earlier in the morning I had driven my entourage from my hometown, Yong Peng in Johor, to Petaling Jaya in my soon-to-be father-in-law's car, a more than 100 mile journey.

Then I missed the next two: Masters and Ph.D. Commencements, but both by design. The first I forewent because I had only two weeks to do any traveling before I returned to Malaysia, and the date of commencement, a day in June 1987, fell right smack in the middle of that. And I figured it was just a ceremony lasting for a couple of hours, compared to a lifetime of memory of a sight-seeing trip that I may never have the chance to partake of. After all, how different can the atmosphere be from the one back in 1978? As they say, you have seen one, you have seen all.

The second miss involved a slightly different circumstance. This time though, the date was three months after I returned to Malaysia, being in May, 1995 while my return trip was already booked on early February the same year, barely one week after I submitted my dissertation in final form to the Graduate Students Department. I had to bring back an official endorsement from the University in lieu of the degree which I would only receive in June, by mail, testifying to my successful completion of the doctoral course and would be awarded the degree in due course to show it to my employer (I was sponsored by the Government) as proof.

So I have only one graduation picture to show for my academic pursuit to the highest level. But I know in my heart that what counted the most was the journey, the test of academic rigor, the countless hours spent in the cold, damp lab building the mud profiles, from bags of artificial clay, mouth covered in protective gear to filter out clay dust lest it got lodged in my lungs, and withstanding the constant probing and prodding from my academic advisor who of course had nothing except my academic wellbeing in his heart.

There were also the fun times like the usual volleyball game during lunch breaks. Who can resist the smugness that came from blocking a spike? Right in your face! Most enjoyable is undoubtedly spending time with the family, visiting places, watching July 4th firework display at the BandShell, admiring the various exhibits at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Harn's Museum of Arts, and many many more sites of local interests, and the weekend trips to the various theme parks in Orlando, including the now defunct Splendid China. Not forgotten are the various book and reading activities organized by area libraries and bookstore chains, and Arts Festivals during which wify and the children had the most fun.

Yes, those are definitely the memories to be cherished, and the growing up lessons we picked up in the process through each footprint kind of got indelibly imprinted and stored in our collective memory bank, for a lifetime of reminiscence.

3 comments:

ONEDIA HAYES SYLVEST said...

The transporting to and from university, We had the added experience in Lydia's first year of driving across the U.S. / Canada border when she attended University of British Columbia the first year. It was much easier when we simply moved her into an apartment on the second year at Portland State.

Will be nice to have your chicks at home for some time I am sure.

Lee Wei Joo said...

Thanks for the fond memories dad.

Say Lee said...

My only purposeful trans-continental road trip, sort of, but ending before the Canadian border was made several years back from Tampa to Portland, the one in Maine, to send my daughter to take up a journalism internship there.

The other two trips passing through Canada were solely for pleasure. The first one was from Berkeley to Vancouver to visit the 1986 World Expo there in 1986. While there, we also visited the UBC campus and marvelled at the beauty of the Rose Garden.

The second one was from Gainesville, FL to Toroto to visit the Niagara Falls, in 1992.

But I must admit those days on the road are coming to end now that the mind is more willing than the body.

And yes, it always feels good to have the kids around the house, once you get around their idiosyncracies.