The overwhelming joy of graduation day

The author is shown with his cousin on graduation day. (Image courtesy of Peak Johnson)

The author is shown with his cousin on graduation day. (Image courtesy of Peak Johnson)

WHYY celebrates Black History Month with Philly.com by publishing essays for their series Black History Untold: Joy, culminating in live event at WHYY on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Convening African American community leaders, the program features networking over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment, and a panel discussion co-moderated by the Inquirer’s Sofiya Ballin and WHYY’s The Remix host Dr. James Peterson.

Each morning and each night I look at my journalism degree from Temple University, I remember the challenges I overcame to get it, including the fear of never receiving it at all.

The overwhelming euphoria I felt when it finally arrived in the mail is something I still carry to this day. It can never really be replicated or taken away.

In the beginning, I never saw myself attending college. I never saw it as the important factor it would become in my life. I grew up in and still live in North Philadelphia. A college graduate is something not often seen coming from a low income household or an impoverished neighborhood.

I remember walking through my neighborhood on graduation day, a cool spring day, twiddling my fingers as my gown blew in the breeze. This would actually be my second degree. The first came from the Community College of Philadelphia just a few years prior. Though I was older, and some things were different, the joy remained the same.

As I continued to the Liacouras Center, random strangers shouted congratulations to me. I thanked them, taking in every moment.

I was among the few who arrived early, though it didn’t take long for the remainder of the class to arrive. Soon we were gathered together, and we took our seats among so much joyful yelling.

It was also the last chance we were able to see Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz. He gave such a wonderful and profound speech about how proud of us everyone in the arena’s countless seats were. He told us that we should believe in ourselves strongly and pick ourselves up when we fall.

After his remarks, we were whisked away to the second part of the program, where we would finally be honored and receive our “stand in” degrees. The list of names that had to be recited was long. I used the time to scroll through my phone to check the status of a story I had been working on the night prior.

I still had plenty of time to twiddle my fingers in anticipation. So many names! And then — finally — it was my row’s turn to stand and walk across the stage.

Everything after that is pretty much a blur. I shook a lot of hands. My classmates and I exchanged words, we took pictures with our families and friends, and just a few days later, I found myself in a classroom. There was one more class I needed to pass before my graduation was official. It was a statistics course, just a few weeks long.

In my mind I didn’t think I could celebrate until I had passed the class, but friends told me continuously that I would be fine and kept congratulating me. There were so many equations to learn each week! As the class wore on, some students had to drop and wait to retake it.

I kept thinking to myself: What if I was next? Math was never my strongest subject. Despite the challenge, I was adamant about getting that degree — and aside from that, I didn’t want to let so many people down, most of all myself.

In the end, I did pass. I was on a high throughout the weeks that followed. Though it did not become real to me until I received an email saying that my degree would be mailed soon. That was such a joyous moment, such a proud feeling. I cannot wait to experience it all again when I get a master’s degree — or two.

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