NEWS BLOG (WSAU) My graduation at Syracuse University was a big day. In addition to the cap and gown ceremony, there was a lot to do. Transcripts needed to be picked up. Books needed to be returned. Dorm rooms needed to be boxed and packed up. Family members were coming. There were diners to plan, a dance to attend, and hotel reservations to confirm.
My mother, father, sister, and grandmother drove up from Connecticut. It was a big day for them, too. I was the first person from my family to graduate with a four year college degree. My grandfather entered the work force when he was discharged from the army, and became a mechanical engineer over a period of years. My father went to City College in New York, and went to night school to get his accounting degree. My mother went to typing school and became a secretary at a law firm. But I was the first traditional college student, and celebrating my graduation was important to everyone.
We had a big dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant. The morning of graduation was a blur, in part from being up too late the night before. I was loading the contents of my dorm room into a U-Haul up to an hour before the procession. The ceremony was fabulous, with speeches about big dreams and lofty goals. I remember swelling with pride as my name was called and my diploma was presented. My father told me afterwards how proud he was, something he always felt but seldom said.
And when it ceremony was over, it was time to go. My mother would drive the car. I would drive the truck. The drive home was 7 hours. We needed to hit the road right away. Traffic was bad getting away from the campus.
The only regret from graduation day – and it was a fabulous day – was that I didn’t have enough time to say goodbye to my friends at school. There was too much to do. As soon as the day was over, everyone scattered. Many of my classmates have been missing from my life ever since. I knew there were some people I’d never see again.
Months later, relaxing at my parents’ house, I read an old railroad journal about the 1936 graduation at Notre Dame. In the deep of the Depression, it was a pessimistic time for our country. Yet graduations are naturally optimistic times, an optimism that breaks through even in dark periods of war or economy. After graduation there were thousands of students that needed transportation out of town… and South Bend was a big railroad town. The Monon and the Nickle Plate would add extra coaches on their trains on graduation day. The Pennsylvania would run an extra section of The Broadway Limited to New York to accomodate students. The New York Central would add extra cars on The Interstate Express to Boston and would run a 15-car special excursion to New York.
That’s what was missing from my graduation day. A train full of friends. A well stocked lounge car. A chance to stay up all night in the sleeper, eating a big meal and smoking a cigar, and having a good, long ride to say a good, long goodbye. Everyone knew when that train reached its destination life would never be the same.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau