Friday, April 24, 2015

My Old School

I am the mother of a college graduate. The kid still gets on my nerves but objectively, he has made the most of the college experience. I think, with degree in hand, he will be able to land somewhere that is interesting and satisfying to him. Even as far as raising my own hackles, I want to throttle him far less frequently than I did four years ago when I strong-armed him into enrolling at my own alma mater. I've yet to hear those most elusive words, “You were right, Mom.” But I was.

Johnston College is sort of like an eccentric uncle. You love him to death but he embarrasses you. The graduation is typical. No caps. No gowns. No Pomp nor Circumstance. I notice couple of wild outfits, including a few dresses that make me regret that slips are no longer a standard undergarment. I ask about a bearded young man in a spaghetti-strapped floral sundress and Joe College just shrugs and gives me a look that says, “We're not judgey here.” The diplomas are presented by persons of the graduates' choosing. There are parents, grandparents, faculty advisers and friends. Given that there are fifty-five graduates, some of the presenters blather on for way too long. Parents go way TMI with recollections of in vitro fertilization and childhood medical catastrophes.

Many of the presentations are beautiful and paint a vivid picture of the kid and what he or she has accomplished. Joe College has his diploma presented by all of his former roommates, starting with Spuds. Each shares the title of a life changing film which our boy introduced him to. It is very fitting although apparently the films are intended to be ironic and I don't quite get it. Still, it is better than some of the endless weepy homilies delivered by other conferrers. One of the girls has her diploma presented by her stepmother. I find out later that the girl's mother is also in attendance and apparently this choice of presenter causes a big and very public family squabble.

I was twenty when I graduated. Because I majored in film, I asked my dad to present my diploma. It's hard to remember what went on in my twenty year old brain but I honestly don't think it occurred to me in advance how hurtful this would be to my mother. I rationalized it to her with the film thing but she didn't really understand. This decision is very high on the list of things I would do over. I recount the story to Joe College and he asks if Himself and I are hurt that he didn't choose us. We tell him it's fine because at least he rejected us both equally.

At occasions like this I appreciate very much not being divorced. My own parents split up when I was seven and every celebration was fraught. I complicated this myself by neglecting my mother when I graduated but most of the time I was innocent.  I was very young when left to run interference and it was always difficult for me to experience complete happiness in the celebration of a milestone. Joe College's Bar Mitzvah was the last event that both of my parents attended. My stepmother, who had boycotted my mother for years, was even present and everyone was incredibly cordial. This however, was a rare instance. Nevertheless, I am thankful that the last big occasion with my parent was a purely happy one.

My parents never got it about Johnston, or why a girl would go to college at all. I rushed through and half assed a lot of my classes. In hindsight, I should have been a more diligent student but still, something sticks. Both of my kids would face a lot less student loan debt had they opted for pubic colleges. I doubt it, but at some point they might regret the decision. I have never regretted my own. My classes seldom had more than ten students and I formed relationships with faculty who would nurture me emotionally and intellectually for years after graduation.

Joe College loves his adviser and in addition to studying, he enjoys hanging out and socializing with him. He has a group of wonderful friends many of which I presume he'll remain close to for years to come. It is noted at graduation that of all of the experimental colleges that sprang up in the sixties, Johnston is the only one still in operation. This impresses Joe College and he asks who the major contributors to Johnston are. My classmate Kathryn Green is the first to come to mind. She sponsors a lecture series and has been incredibly generous to the college for decades.

I've reunited with Kathryn lately at some alumni events. We have a couple of meals and walks together. As a fellow introvert, she notes her similarity to Himself and suggests that he'd be her perfect husband. They could both stay in separate rooms of the house and never go out. Kathryn connects with me I guess because I understand the care and feeding of her ilk. Introverts do not (necessarily) hate people. They just value solitude and require a greater proportion of it than others do in order to offset human interaction. Kathryn was also, like Himself, a very picky eater and appreciated my equanimity when she grilled a waitress for twenty minutes.

I know that when I describe Kathryn's contributions to Johnston, Joe College is feeling strongly that he too hopes to be in a position to make a substantial contribution to this little engine that could. The few days after our chat about Kathryn, it is announced on Facebook that she was struck, while walking, by a bicycle and killed. Another of my classmates finds a photo of the school in its original location and adds the caption “Kathryn Green College.” Perfect.

Kathryn, although she could only tolerate it in small doses, loved the community. And the expressions of grief certainly demonstrate that it loved her back. Himself, as a spouse, dad and participant in alumni seminars is an honorary Johnstonian. He too had parents who were befuddled by his hunger for book learnin' but his college experience took a very traditional turn. He is jealous that the kid and I lucked out and has become a serious booster. Joe College and I appreciate our good fortune and know that we will reap then benefits of our short time at Johnston for the rest of our lives. The loss of Kathryn Green is a huge blow. I hope we can honor her memory by digging a bit deeper.  


Steve Knox said...

Layne, I am saddened by this loss. Kathy Green was amongst the kindest people I have ever known. below is a note from another friend.
Posted by JAC
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2015 at 9:54 am

As a person who is among the close friends of the victim, I can assure you that there has been no sense of finger-pointing or blaming. Surely human error was at way, another, or both.... but this was a tragic accident. There is no sense of wrong doing or flagrant disrespect for law or safety. Poor choices or decisions happen everyday to all of us, and many good decisions, too. We are humans. My heart goes out to the biker, as it breaks for the loss of my dear friend.

John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

Poignant. You can finally use this song title, which has now a double meaning for our other son, two years away. I am proud of both you JC grads and our far-out/off student in our family.

Rosemary said...

WOW, so sorry to hear about Kathy! Just incredible. My heart goes out to you all and to all of her friends and colleagues. You did her great honor. I chuckled by your description of her ordering dinner, she'd love that.