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Last Chance Graduation

Author: Evelyn Fenn

I have few tangible souvenirs from my graduation ceremony: a fancy certificate; a VHS tape I can no longer play; a framed portrait photo that’s tucked away in a cupboard; a few snapshots that are lost somewhere in the house.

I also have a wonderfully gender neutral title that, combined with my gender neutral forename, confuses the heck out of strangers, and I have memories.

I almost didn’t bother going to graduation. I wouldn’t have, except my parents—more specifically, my mother—wanted me to. ‘Three children,’ she bemoaned. ‘Five graduations between the lot of you, and so far you’ve all graduated in absentia. I want to see at least one of you graduate. You. Are. My. Last. Chance! Let. Me. Be. Proud!’

She wasn’t dying and, theoretically, any one of us could have got another degree, had we been motivated enough, so saying I was her last chance was maybe a tad melodramatic. Then again, perhaps she had a point. I was getting my PhD, and my older siblings had established themselves in areas far removed from academia, so, chances were, none of us was going to do this again.

To be fair to Mum, between us kids, we’d also had two elopements and one person—me—who remained resolutely single, so she hadn’t done very well in terms of other celebratory life events. For her, my graduation was A Big Deal.

Last chance. Let me be proud.

Oh! The pressure!

Thanks to a combination of the level of degree I’d earned, my subject, faculty, and where my surname comes in the alphabet, I was the first person to cross the stage.

The year before, my predecessor had managed to walk the wrong way and had had to be herded back on course. I saw his experience as a cautionary tale, and I was determined to do it right. So I checked and rechecked my instructions, determined to leave no room for error. No way was I going to embarrass myself in front of several hundred people!

At the appointed time, I got up from my chair and walked to the edge of the stage. I climbed the steps. Walked along the platform in front of the great and the good, all audience eyes upon me. I shook the VC’s hand. Turned. Prepared to walk down the flight of steps that led from the middle-front of the stage to the central aisle in the auditorium.

And one of my two-inch block-heels caught at the top of the stairs.

My arms pin-wheeled and my burgundy gown billowed out behind me as I lost my balance, and the thought that I was doing a very poor impersonation of Superman taking flight flashed through my mind.

How mortifying!

Still. I suppose things could have been worse. Somehow, even if my descent was decidedly inelegant, I managed not to bloody my nose or break my neck.

After the ceremony, everyone dispersed back to their departments. We drank fizzy wine and ate strawberries and cream. Freshly-minted graduates threw mortar boards in the air, and we were all incandescently happy.

A few weeks later, I received my copy of the graduation video in the post. I was the only person the final edit showed going down the steps, possibly because my slapstick descent was the most memorable part of the entire ceremony.

But Mum had celebrated and was proud of me, anyway.

And that’s the most important thing to remember.