5 am buzzz. An open eye, some finger play, snooze. Another buzz at 5-30. I heaved my Philly-cheese-steak-stuffed body out of my newly bought & broken bed. Frowning at the Inamdars & Takles sound asleep, I began the ritual of scrubbing myself clean of all drowsiness & dirt while cursing the graduate school for arranging the ceremony so early on a Sunday morning. Attempting to fix my good-boy-hairstyle, I put on my suit as others lined up for the bathroom. The grey skies outside mirrored the gloom inside my heart as I pulled the plastic smile out of my sleeve to face the ecstatic crowd.
7-15 am. I revved up my Camry as Poonam, Omkar, Jay and Ankit piled in with a half a dozen regalia sets. Pulling in towards our football stadium from River Road, we were gently guided by security personnel to our reserved parking spot. We rushed in for registrations and received our fake degrees from a cheerful attendant who sounded like a stuck record player. I was glad to see 'Siddharth Vijay Asha Wagh' on the call-out sheet, and even more glad to hear it correctly pronounced by the lady at the desk. Ignoring the breakfast items, I put on my (read: Neel's) gown and cap, as Omkar and Poonam helped me arrange the hood and tassel. All those attempts at reducing puppy fat by eating salads for lunch turned out futile, as I took my first picture. I found row 8, seat 8 and began pleasantries with friends while attending calls from Jog and Lavesh as they pinpointed my location to collect their robes.
8 am. The function began by speeches from various faceless dignitaries of our school. I barely paid attention to the gentlemen as I kept throwing side-glances to spot the latecomers. Soon, Marshals began directing students, or rather graduates, to proceed to the stage for a customary handshake. Jog flew in just in time, followed by Lavesh as they grabbed their regalia from me with the passion of a hawk swooping on a prey. I paced mechanically towards the stage filling in the photo card with a pencil. Memories swam in as I handed my call-out card at the podium and walked in.
“Digital design lab. Trying to outdo friends in a game of flash cards memorization.”
“The ephemeral visa interview and exuberance at the approval.”
“Dining table discussion about whether to continue for MS, or work at TCS for two years to gain experience.”
“Mumbai airport, chaos, tears and goodbyes.”
The dean shook me out of my daze with a firm handshake as I shot him a wide grin hoping to get the moment captured in few of the countless clicks around me. Down the stairs, done with my 5 seconds of fame, I relaxed in my chair. The school banner held out, the band playing some god-forsaken tune, we were escorted in pairs outside the shamiana only to be smothered by bear hugs from friends and families. The last dregs of the Fall 2007 batch were finally filtering out. Everyone proceeded, at leisure, to the stadium where the University Commencement was scheduled.
10 am. The rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the revellers who had every reason to rejoice in the success of their loved ones. Blotches of red clashed with greens and yellow streaks on a canvas of black robes and caps. Every school gifted their kids with a distinct noisemaker: tick-tocks, whistles, foam hands and banana balloons. All the 8204 graduate names flashed on the stadium sides, while recorded student-message videos were screened on the big screen. Soon, all graduates made a beeline to the center of the stadium field where wet chairs welcomed us for a 2 hour ordeal. I waved nonchalantly at no one in particular. Once seated, we tried to focus our attention on the speeches doled out by some important people, all the while yearning to punch those huge beach balls bouncing over us. The band for the day were a bunch of graduate students playing in sync with their music instructor. We were humbled to listen to the achievements of Brooke Mackenzie Ellsion, a Harvard student paralyzed neck down at age 11 but whose spirit conquered all impediments. Later, we were mesmerized by Toni Morrison, the keynote speaker of the day and a Nobel Laureate in Literature. Her message to not only look good, but ‘do good’ and set goals beyond attaining happiness received overwhelming applause. The program ended with animated songs like ‘RU Rah Rah’ and ‘On the banks of the old Raritan’ from a hyperactive bunch of kids. Caps flew in the air and the stadium came alive with the shouts of ecstatic students and beaming parents as I withdrew within myself to remember those who invested their life’s savings on my education and a better future, and who couldn’t be here to witness me cross the extra mile, thanks to the whims of paranoid visa officers. The moment receded, as I shot down the field to find my special guests and lead them for lunch at Guru Palace.
When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.