Graduation weekend wrap up, so much to say with lots of twists and turns along the way! I’m always honest in this space and today will be no different- no sugar coating anything. It’s a cautionary tale of sorts, I hope you enjoy it!
In case you are new around here, I have two sons. Both attended the University of Florida. My older son graduated in December 2020. That meant no in-person graduation for us. We made the absolute most of it and while it was not ideal, the whole world was in the same position. Our son was disappointed because he’d worked hard. Earned himself an engineering degree, graduated summa cum laude and had accepted a job offer. Because of his graduation experience we really had no idea what to expect from a UF graduation weekend as our younger son prepared to graduate in 2022.
If you have children in college, you know that the college or university communicates through them. They are adults after all, and it’s up to them to pass on information. Back in November I started shopping around for hotel reservations. To my surprise, there was basically no availability so I jumped on Expedia. I should also add that the university would not commit to how many tickets would be given per graduate because of the uncertainty of the pandemic. I knew that my mother would need to join us and as much as the rest of our family would like to be there, I could not expect them to travel the 2 hours and book a hotel, that was an incorrect assumption btw. In retrospect I should have let them decide.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Expedia called to tell me that the hotel had to cancel our reservations! For some unknown reason the property was closing. I tried calling the hotel directly to find out what was happening and the phone just rang and rang. I was in a panic at this point. Thank goodness just a few hours later we had new reservations just a little further away from the university. Crisis averted.
Our older son, now living in Nashville, flew in Thursday evening. We left for Gainesville Friday morning – picked up my mom on the way. I had a few unexpected upsets on Friday morning and came to a few realizations but that is all water under the bridge now and I know how to proceed in the future – stay off social media on important days! But I digress. While graduation ceremonies were scheduled from Thursday through Sunday, UF holds one University wide commencement ceremony on Friday evening. This is for the whole graduating class (10,000 in total) and is held in “The Swamp” aka Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The graduates are led in by college and all the traditional speeches take place, Pomp and Circumstance is played, etc. It is really something special but we honestly had no idea. I think many graduates are not aware of what actually takes place. We were under the assumption that this was just some kind of recognition ceremony but the students actually graduated that night – moved their tassels and everything! They just did not walk across the stage.
With so many graduates it would be impossible for the president, provost, and guest speaker to be present at each ceremony. So this time honored tradition is one way to bring everyone together and it was really special. Tim Tebow received the Distinguished Alumni Award and was the Keynote speaker. He is amazing!
We grabbed a few photos with Collin but not too many. The ceremony started at 7, Collin needed to be there by 5:45 and we had to have dinner beforehand. My mother made a big pasta dinner for everyone and we had dinner at our son’s apartment. I should also mention that my two nephews also attend UF. One is working on his PhD in Chemistry and the other graduates next Spring with his journalism degree. The Chemistry major had to get back to the lab so he could only join us for dinner.
If I had any inkling how the next 24 hours would turn out, I would have dressed differently for this night and we would have taken more photos. The dress code for the ceremony was casual attire since it was being held in the stadium. I brought one outfit to wear but decided to keep my jeans on instead because it was cooler than I thought. We also did a ton of walking – so comfortable shoes were key!
We also came to the quick realization that I did not order a stole for my son. While it may not seem to be a big deal, it was to me. I must have thought we’d use our older sons? Not sure. I did order him the summa cum laude cords but I was in a total panic about the stole. It’s all about communication and assumptions; lesson learned for me. When we preparing to leave Friday morning the thought had crossed my mind that I should grab Nolan’s (our older son) graduation regalia – I pushed the thought away and regretted it later. But as I mentioned earlier, Friday morning presented some bumps in the road for me and I was definitely off my game. No one to blame but myself for allowing something trivial to get to me. Ugh.
Overall, Friday night was great! We enjoyed the ceremony so much and left exhausted. But I was still feeling horrible about not having a stole for Collin. In the photos we had taken earlier in the month, he wore Nolan’s cap, gown, and stole because his had not arrived yet.
Our son’s ceremony was set to begin at 9am. He was told to report to the hall at 7:45am. Several times he asked us how he was getting there and we told him to drive himself since we had no idea if there’s be traffic where we were coming from as well as the fact that we had 4 people to get ready and he had just himself.
We arrived bright and early and took our seats. I texted him, asking him if he wanted me to run to the bookstore and buy a stole. He did not respond. I checked Life360 (best app ever) and it showed his phone had little to no battery life and the location was his apartment. We assumed (there’s that word again) the he left it accidently at his apartment. Then we tried texting and calling my nephew (his roommate) and got no answer. College students do not get up early in case you were wondering – ha! Long story short, as the graduates were being led on to the stage, our son was not there. At 9:10am he called me and said his phone had died (FYI this is what happens when you do not listen to your parents when they tell you to charge it when you go to bed). His alarm had gone off at 6:30 and he hit snooze, the next thing he knew it was 9am. Clearly, he would not be making it to the ceremony. So we left!
I felt relieved that he was okay, first and foremost that is what mattered. My heart broke for him since it was his graduation. But I wasn’t mad and neither was my husband. My mother, on the other hand, was upset. Of course she was sympathetic towards Collin but I know she was upset. Nolan had said at one point that we needed to go over to his apartment and bang on the door – in retrospect we should have. But we were also worried that we might miss the ceremony – maybe he was there without his phone? It’s just one of those things that you don’t expect to happen and then it does.
In any case, we went straight to his apartment. I grabbed him and hugged him. This was his day and he needed to know we loved him, it was not the end of the world. Grace can be given freely and no good would come from what we woulda, coulda, shoulda done. I am a firm believer in natural consequences and if you know me IRL, you know I am no helicopter mom, I simply cannot want my children to succeed more than they do so it’s up to them. This has worked thus far; Collin graduated Summa Cum Laude with an architecture degree. He has worked hard, served as president of the volleyball club, works Door Dash and pays his own way – we do not supplement our children’s education. So, certainly, he is no slacker!
So, yes, we missed the graduation ceremony! The silver lining was that we were able to help him pack up most of his apartment and hit the road to head home. Our sons road back together and my husband and I had my mom in our car. My mom is an “awfulizer” unless it is perfect, everything is “terrible” or “awful” while I, on the other hand, am a silver lining kind of gal. So, the 2 hour car ride was filled with lots of discussion on how this really wasn’t the worst thing that could happen and that hopefully Collin learned a lesson. It would not steal our joy! I pointed out that for some reason we were not meant to be there that day and that it was time to move on.
Saturday evening we hosted a party for our family and best friends, better known as “framily”. It was amazing! We had a great time with great food and lots of laughs. Poor Collin was carrying in the food we ordered (Japanese Hibachi) and sauce spilled down the front of his shirt and all over his shorts – it was definitely not his day! He changed his shorts and we rinsed the shirt, so that’s why his shirt is wet in so many of the photos. But as I looked around on Saturday night at all the people who love us, I realized that this is what matters most; not a ceremony, not a graduation picture, nor regalia. It’s the time we spend with those we love. My father and niece were missed, of course, as they are every day but I believe they were there in spirit.
After a stressful few days, we slept in on Sunday. Our son Nolan, loves plants and suggested we go to Leu Gardens. It was really lovely and we saw so many beautiful plants! Nolan was in hog heaven while Collin tolerated it- ha! Afterwards we went to dinner, then got ice cream and topped off the night with a visit to see my niece at her work.
What a weekend! It did not go as planned but we made the best of it. It’s important not to sweat the small stuff and in the grand scheme of things, a ceremony is the small stuff. We are very proud of our son and his accomplishments. As for what’s next for him? His degree is in architecture and he will be going back to get his master’s degree. But first, he’d like to do an internship and take a gap year. He plans to return to UF in the fall of 2023 to start grad school. I am so happy to have him home!
Thanks for reading and I hope that from my experience, you’ll get a little something that might help you.