Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Commencing, Part One

The insanity continues! I'm sure my total disappearance has made that obvious, but it bears repeating. If bar review isn't the absolute least pleasant thing I've ever done in my life, it at least gives the full decade of heavy-duty orthodontia I once endured a run for its money.

But I want to look back on commencement a little bit, while some memory of it isn't totally crowded out by oil and gas law or corporate director indemnification, and only then work my way up to where I am now, running this miserable gauntlet that supposedly marks the start of my career and adult life.

I flew back to Cambridge several days before commencement and spent all of them boxing up books, clothes, office supplies, decorations, and all the other odds and ends Russell couldn't get to while still working full time at Harvard. When I looked up and it was suddenly Class Day, the day prior to commencement marked by several law-school-specific festivities, and I needed to meet my mother and her fiancée for brunch, not nearly enough was done. For all my hard work, I looked around our place and still pretty much saw our place, not the mostly empty shell I had pictured us easily transferring into our moving pods the weekend after commencement.

So that caused some panic, but I had to set it aside and soak up the celebration that was coming whether I was ready or not. Class day was fantastic, with a few relatives trickling in throughout the day to hear Alec Baldwin's memorable address to our class - he said if he could go back and take our career path over his, he would do it - and see perhaps my all-time favorite professor accept the teaching award from my graduating class with such humor and poignancy it made me cry. Dinner was pub fare at Cambridge Common, such a beloved law student haunt that I was shocked the family could find a table, but happy to show them where I had spent so many good times over the years.

My dad arrived late that evening, after a tremendous snafu by his airline that he only managed to salvage through a huge expense of time and money that I still feel awful about. (My aunt and uncle, originally set to fly with him, arrived even later because he literally took the last seat on the less delayed of the two remaining flights that day. Just think what that would probably cost, and double it, and you may be in the ballpark.)

Still, when we had to get up before dawn the next day to stop for coffee and pastries (a bit of a father-daughter graduation tradition) before I went to line up at the law school and he went to meet my mom to claim their two seats at the enormous university-wide ceremony, he was positively cheerful. It was hard to leave him and know I would have no contact with them through all the pomp and circumstance that morning.

But it was also great to join my friends in the big march from the law school grounds to the Old Yard, where the graduate students all wait to process to their seats. We joked around, took tons of pictures, and listened to one particular friend, Robert, relate his incredible ordeal getting to Cambridge to walk with us. Like my dad, aunt, and uncle, his flight out of Dallas was cancelled, but only after he had reached Dallas and thus ruled out any other possible routes. After almost a day in both that city's airports, he wound up on a plane to Baltimore, where some nearby relatives picked him up and drove him through the night to meet us literally halfway through our march to the Yard. It was like something out of Home Alone, but there he was, smiling for photos with the rest of us, while the Dean of Students scrambled to find him a gavel to carry and a safety pin to keep the hood on his commencement gown in place.

On reaching our seats, we settled in for over three hours of ceremony, including one address in Latin (mercifully translated in the program) and separate certifications of the graduates from each school. Things got warm as the sun crept over the buildings around the Yard, people were coming and going frequently for water or the restroom by the end, and most of us seated in the sun eventually wriggled out of our heavy gowns as discreetly as possible. After much shouting and tears when we were pronounced "ready to aid in the shaping and application of those wise restraints that make men free," and after the honorary degrees were awarded (including to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and to Placido Domingo, who spontaneously sang for the Justice after hearing she was a big opera fan), we had to rush to get our robes back on to leave. After meeting my enormous family at the tables they'd claimed on Holmes Field, I stripped right back out again. So there are a lot of pictures of me from that day in just a black dress.

The law school ceremony was excellent, much briefer, and surprisingly informal with all the graduates and their families eating lunch at round tables packed onto the field. I, for one, completely chowed down and chatted quietly with my family through most of it. I was so happy to see them, a dozen or so having flown in the night before and not seen me yet, that their faces and kind words are what I remember most from the afternoon. Of course, Justice Ginsburg deciding to drop by and give an impromptu pep talk was also pretty spectacular. The graduates were called by first-year section to line up to receive diplomas, and my section was last, so I got a solid block of time to relax beforehand. Then there was a brief moment of panic when a problem with my robes made me the last person in the section to line up. I arrived with plenty of time, it turned out, but I regret not having longer with my classmates before we each walked across the stage and into our new lives.

That was definitely a surreal experience, up in front of the library with the trees rustling and cameras flashing all around. I don't know if it was appropriate, but I threw my arms around our section's faculty leader as he reached to shake my hand before I stepped off the stage. Other people had said they were going to do it, so I figured why not. On a broad set of steps near where we all picked up our actual diplomas (the thing they hand you on stage is just a cover to put it in), somebody suggested that all the section-mates hang out and take a picture together. We waited for every last person to walk, squeezed in tight, and smiled out at a hundred or so parents and spouses with cameras. In every shot I've seen so far, I'm making some funny face or other. I sure hope to find a good one someday.

So that was it, I had graduated, and the ceremony wound down quickly while I posed for a million more pictures with each family member of mine who had come. I knew that was important, but I was glad when it was over and I could take the robes off again and lead the group on a tour of the campus I love so much. We saw the gorgeous library reading room, one of the classrooms in Austin Hall (where everyone, very understandably, had to play at length with the microphones), and the Ames Courtroom, among other places. Then we ventured into my neighborhood, partly to show my Nana (who is the best cook anyone who meets her has ever met) the house where Julia Child lived and her favorite gourmet grocer where she signed "Bon Appetit!" in the sidewalk outside. Then we stopped for some refreshing sangria at Dali before heading through the Yard to catch the subway to dinner. We had a party space arranged at Tavern in Porter Square, where everyone loved the risotto fritters I hadn't shut up about for three years.

It was perfect.

Three fantastic days touring Boston with the family followed. We hit up the Freedom Trail, the North End, the Samuel Adams Brewery, the Kennedy Library, and who knows what else - my head spins just thinking about it. My feet have never hurt so badly in my life, and I used to dance ballet. But I could not have ended law school (not to mention three years in the dreary Northeast, which of course mustered such gorgeous weather for my relatives' entire visit that none of them believed me about the miserable climate) with a bigger bang.

And then Russell and I, with the help of some friends, neighbors, and one fabulous aunt who stayed for the duration, had to wrangle the rest of our belongings into boxes and load them into two moving pods and board a flight home to Texas.

What has happened since we got there, I think I'd better leave for another day.

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