Graduation Day: A retrospective

Periodically I’ll think of a seemingly random moment in my life, often many years ago, and trace forward how that one instance radically altered the trajectory of my existence. It’s a way of looking back, not in regret, but in awe at the tremendous weight of each decision we make.

We think of major ceremonious times – in the case of today, my graduation from Pacific Lutheran University one year ago – but really these events often were more a case of public recognition of our journey than a seminal moment in the journey itself. For example, that ceremony publicly bestowed upon me the title of college graduate, but that was a reflection of the previous four years and not actually anything meaningful within those experiences.

I have found (warning to my over-stressed friends, “I told you so” moment coming up) that the most meaningful times in my life have been those spent with friends and family doing the things I love. As much as I learned from every class I attended at PLU, and as much as what I learned in those classes has played a role in my life since, I remember very little about specific homework assignments or tests. But I absolutely remember specific moments of late-night procrastination, whether it was in the form of movies, Mario Kart or midnight trips to Dick’s in Seattle.

The first seminal moment leading to my graduation from PLU took place sometime in early March 2006, several months before I enrolled as a Lute, in my fourth period band class at Kamiak High School. I do not remember the specific day, but our director informed us that we would be playing at the Opening Day Mariners game for the 2006 season.

Now, anyone who knows me knows my love for baseball, and the Mariners will always hold a very special place in my heart (most likely as a tremendous source of frustration, pain and agony, but without experiencing sadness we can’t appreciate happiness, right? At least, that’s what I tell myself each year…). This opportunity was a dream come true for me. Granted, it was a dream I never would have dreamt – really, a marching band in baseball? But it was an opportunity I simply could not pass up.

Unfortunately, Opening Day 2006 was scheduled for the same day as a scholarship interview at Whitworth in Spokane. Whitworth was the school I wanted to attend more than any other, although to be honest I do not know why. I had never seen the campus, but somehow the school appealed to me more than all the others to which I applied.

I sought the most logical (not to mention simple) solution to this dilemma, but unfortunately the Mariners refused to reschedule Opening Day (I will never understand why). And since I was also unable to reschedule my interview at Whitworth, I made the most responsible decision I could.

I left the possibility (albeit unlikely) of a full scholarship to Whitworth so I could stand on the Safeco Field turf and bang the drum slowly (I thought about saying bang on the drum all day, to reference the Todd Rundgren song, but I figured a baseball movie was a more fitting reference). Since PLU offered me the largest scholarship package and I truly enjoyed my campus visits, I became a Lute (almost a reverse Pinocchio type thing, I guess).

Now, I’m sure all (two or three – what can I say? I’m optimistic…) of you reading this are considering me a total idiot for potentially leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table to cheer on a terrible team (the Mariners in general and the 2006 team specifically). And on the surface you are spot on.

But as much as I mean no disrespect to Whitworth, I cannot imagine having gone anywhere other than PLU. I am who I am because of the experiences I had in the Lutedome and the people I encountered. I even fluked my way into my current career path thanks to the people and situations at PLU.

I could point to so many other times and experiences, both more specific and more general, to reveal the odd trajectory of how I have become who I am, and perhaps I will at some other point. But this is not the time for the convoluted possibilities of Back to the Future Part Two.

I offer my congratulations to this year’s graduates, from both PLU and all other schools, and wish nothing but the best for your futures. But as you take part in the journey of your one wild and precious life (thank you, Mary Oliver), take some time every once in a while to look back and retrace your steps. See from where you came, and realize some of the utterly ridiculous circumstances that in hindsight played THE definitive role in establishing your personal identity.

You graduation ceremony is a time to bask in the glory of what you have accomplished, but those three hours (two if you’re lucky, four if you’re not) do not fundamentally change who you are even as they forever change how you are viewed and identified. The responsibility for your evolving identity all too often lies in the most innocuous and seemingly random event in an otherwise ordinary day.

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