It was later reported that my wife’s exact words were “Where in the… %^)*_&$… is John?” She was very eloquent on special occasions and this just happened to be one.
It was graduation day at Washburn University. I had just been awarded my Masters Degree in Criminal Justice.
It started off as a run of the mill university graduation day. There were pictures to be taken, food to be gathered, with gowns and hoods to be readied. We had to get the tassle to stay on top of the square hat they had you wear.
I was dropped off at the university early so that I could find my proper place in the long line of graduates. We were gathered in areas designated by our school and department. As a recipient of a masters degree, I also had my hood with me which was colored according to the program I was in. When we went across the stage, they would give you the degree and drape the hood around your neck.
We also had to give the announcer a card with our name phonetically spelled out so that they could pronounce the real difficult ones. Mine was so simple that I was embarrassed handing it to them. Lou-is…John…Pur-vis.
The line we gathered into snaked around the fieldhouse with close to a thousand people participating. While I was standing in line, I saw many people who I had known and studied with over the years.
In fact, I ran into an old girlfriend who was getting her masters in social work. She saw me and actually smiled. Not the normal ex-girlfriend behavior I was used to. I expected her to dart from the room through the nearest exit, but instead we had a nice conversation and even a hug. It made me feel good to see her doing so well after having sunk so low in life, by dating me. I could now claim that dating me didn’t seem to cause any long-term or genetic damage. Only regrets…..and we all have those.
Eventually the time came to slowly walk into the gymnasium where the commencement was being held. The music started and everyone stood up and jockeyed for a good spot to see and to take pictures. I looked around and spotted my wife, family, and friends who were there. They came down and snapped a couple photos. I gave them the customary half-happy-while-terribly-embarrassed smile. After what seemed like an eternity we made it to our seats and got set for an action packed and spectacular evening of speech-making!!
As I looked around the gym I could see the people who were genuinely happy with their graduate and this great accomplishment. My family, being as big as it was, was not nearly so excited. I think they felt cheated because this was a December graduation. It’s bad enough getting drug to the May graduations, but at least that is the normal month. Going to one in December is like being forced to go an extra mile, working overtime without pay, or going above and beyond!
John was really going to owe us for this one!
After the speeches, we stood up and began to walk across the stage. I went through, handed them my name card and they announced me. I was then hooded and an official picture taken. Of course my wife was there and took photos of the hooding.
After the ceremony was over, we all walked back out the way we came in. Most of us waited at our gathering spots in the hallway outside. I saw several people I knew and talked to them. The hall was packed with graduates and families. Everyone was very festive and happy. I stood there watching everyone and waiting for my family and friends. I expected them to come walking up at any moment now. The hugs and group pictures would then commence. I stood there confidently smiling.
And I waited…
And I waited…
And I waited…
After about a half hour, the graduates were leaving with their families to attend their own celebrations. I continued to wait as the last of the graduates left the building. The deserted building became more and more quiet.
Various administrators and custodial staff walked by and I would smile and nod, as though all was well. No problems here folks. I’m standing here by myself on purpose. No worries.
Inside my head, meanwhile, I am wondering “where are those knuckleheads?” I walked around the building looking for a familiar face and found none.
I went back into the gymnasium where the staff was beginning to put the chairs away and fold the bleachers back. The silence of the empty building was occasionally interrupted by the clash and clang of stacked chairs. Pretty soon I was the ONLY person there who wasn’t a custodian.
After about an hour I began to wonder how long I could stand there before somebody noticed. I knew the campus police would eventually be coming through on their patrol. Would I count as a vagrant? Technically, I wasn’t a student anymore. Would they throw me out on my backside? I’d have to wonder the streets after dark in the cold.
I’d be the first picture on the side of a milk carton wearing a black robe, hood, and odd-looking square hat.
This was when cellular telephones were beginning to come out. So I didn’t have a small iphone conveniently in my pocket. Since I was not expecting to have any troubles I didn’t have any change with me for the pay phones either.
A crowd of family and friends had gathered at our home for a graduation party with cake, gifts, and the grad…….no wait………the graduate……..Is Missing!
My wife’s first reaction was to corner the friend of the graduate, Mark, and grill him about where the graduate had gone to. “Where is he hiding?”
She was suspicious and assumed that John was up to no good. He was playing a prank or practical joke on everyone….. That’s just like him!
Quick, check all the closets and closed doors before he jumps out to try and scare everyone……Nothing.
OK, look and see which car is missing. He must have left to go get something. He’s dead when he gets back for leaving his own party without a word…..That’s just like him!
Well that’s odd. All the cars seem to be here. It’s gotten dark and cold out on this December evening. Where could he be?…..
She was beginning to get a little embarrassed because the in-laws were all there as she attempted to find the guest of honor.
Meanwhile, back at the school, I stood there patiently.
I Smiled at each person who walked by to give the illusion that everything was ok and I had planned on standing there by myself in a graduation robe, hood, and square hat.
At one point I even thought about that old girlfriend I’d talked to earlier. As I remembered, her mom was a great cook. I’ll bet they are having one heck of a party.
Apparently…. I wasn’t……
After about an hour of waiting in semi-solitude, my good friend Mark came walking into the gymnasium at a brisk pace. He smiled and I felt great relief that my friend was there for me. He said they all got to my house and began bringing out the cake and presents when eventually, my wife asked where I was at. It was at that point that the people in the room each acknowledged that they hadn’t brought me home with them.
My wife apparently gave Mark instructions to go find me…..or not return alive!
I think she still thought this was some sort of prank. Mark, however, being my wing-man would be in on any prank, so he knew better. He got in his truck and set out for the university in search of a missing graduate. It was a couple miles to the school. Of course, on the bright side, for once, and only once, it was easy to find a great parking spot at Washburn University, since nobody was there.
We finally arrived at my house and had a very nice party. I was disappointed that Mom wasn’t able to be there, but the weather had been cold and a little icy so her ride had fallen through. She stayed home in Manhattan.
As with many graduates that night, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d worked in conservation and law enforcement for many years and enjoyed it. I was now in my late 30’s and had my masters degree with a new journey about to begin. I was scheduled to start law school in a month, so I would begin a new chapter in life very soon.
For many years my sisters had given me a hard time about still being in school. They wondered if I was going to be a professional student. At this point it was looking like they might be right after all.
For some people the idea of being left or forgotten might be scary or terrifying. In my family, on the other hand, the old adage held true that it wasn’t truly a party till someone went to the emergency room, got in a fight, or got lost. We never seemed to worry about good or bad experiences, but whether you’d have a good story to tell on yourself. We didn’t tell stories on others too much, that would be rude, but seemed to relish and enjoy making fun of our own selves.
Hey, I graduated this week. I got a college degree, a new job, and a new car. What did you get?……………I got left.