There was no pomp or ceremony. There was no fanfare. There were no cheering people. A momentous occasion required at least a little ceremony and fanfare, a few cheering people, didn’t it?
It was just after 11 a.m. on a raw, bleak, December day. I shivered, turned up the collar of my coat and tugged the zipper up as far as it would go. I was walking west on Pollock Road toward Burrows Road on the University Park campus of The Pennsylvania State University, my white cane tapping against the brick sidewalk. I had walked this same route dozens of times before and there had always been plenty of other people on that sidewalk. This time was different. It was irrational to feel that everyone was avoiding me. I knew that. But then, feelings are not supposed to be rational, are they?
A few minutes earlier, I stood inside the doorway of Room 320 in the Willard Building, hesitating, wondering if I should act on my feelings. It didn’t seem right to simply walk out. Michelle was still in the room, in the far corner, her familiar shape backlit by the large squares of weak, winter daylight that spanned two sides of the room. I wanted to give her a hug.
Was it even appropriate to hug an instructor?
To get to her, I would need to not only clamber over and around backpacks, books, papers, and coats but also tables, chairs, an electronics cart, a screen, snakes of cords, not to mention people. The classroom was not its usual tidy self, for our last class of the semester we had presentations, complete with cookies and scones. Michelle had warned us that she was violating a no-food-in-classrooms policy with, “I’ll bring party food if you promise to leave no evidence!”
No one else was in a hurry to leave either. All the other familiar shapes and voices were still there too. There was Jason—the amusingly loveable class clown. There was Ally—the kindest nineteen-year-old I’d ever met, the one who’d helped me set up my blog. There were Jordan and Kyle—who had helped me ‘die’ just a few days earlier. I wanted to give them all a hug too. And tell them to stay in touch. Tell me which courses they’d chosen for the spring semester. Tell me how they planned to spend their winter holiday. Tell me stories of the families and friends back home.
Anything really, anything to prolong the relationships we’d started to form.
They had all been in that same space three months earlier when I’d walked into my first class on a university campus. I had been anxious, tense, exhilarated, and a jumble of other unidentified emotions.
Three months ago, I also had doubts about my sanity. There were few logical reasons for my presence in a university classroom at age fifty-six. But none of those teenagers, or Michelle, had ever given any indication of doubting my sanity. Instead, they accepted my presence and taught me much more than I could have imagined. I had no idea whether they’d learned anything from the grandma with the white hair and the white cane, but I wanted them to know how much that grandma appreciated their tolerance and cooperation and inclusion.
In the end, I didn’t act on my feelings. I simply raised my arm and called out, “Thank you, Michelle!” When I heard, “Good-bye Maryann,” I opened the door and walked to the stairwell a few steps to the right. Tugging my phone out of my pocket, I pushed #3 on its face and said, “I’m walking out the door now.”
Then I carefully tapped my way down the multiple flights of steps to the side entrance on the far northwest corner of the building, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and headed to the spot where a white minivan had stopped dozens of times before.
It didn’t take long to hear the familiar voice say, “So, Mom, I guess it’s official, you survived your first semester.”
“Yeah, it seems I did. Yeah, against all odds, it seems I did,” I repeated, heaving a big sigh.
“And I’ll tell you another thing,” I mumbled. “Even if I do survive another seven semesters of this and make it to an official graduation, I know I could not possibly feel more proud of myself than I do right now. And right now, I could really use a little pomp and ceremony. Right now, I could really use a few cheers. Right now, I could really use few pats on the back.” I sighed again as my daughter steered the white minivan toward home.
I couldn’t even muster up anticipation for my final grades. Another week would pass before I saw them on Angel and learn that I had completed my first semester of college—without the benefit of high school and despite a forty-year hiatus in formal education—with a 3.93 GPA.