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Bryan's Graduation

Johnny Jones, May 1995

Bryan's graduationI was not expecting much from Bryan's graduation ceremonies. I had been to lots of ceremonies before, and I thought I was beyond being unduly impressed.

Besides, neither of our parents could attend the ceremony. Mama's recovery from her hip replacement was slowed by chemotherapy, and Chip's mother still had too many problems with shingles to travel so far. Amy couldn't come, either; she was still in the midst of finals at Davidson. So it seemed a little depressing.

The Houston weather didn't help. It had rained Thursday, the day we got in, and Friday, off and on. The forecast was iffy. We took both sunscreen and umbrellas with us as we walked from our motel to the outdoor ceremony.

We got there at 7:30 for the 8:30 ceremony. The idea was to get graduation over before the sun and humidity became unbearable.

We got good seats, about six rows back of the candidates, on the side where Bryan would be sitting. I brought two Newsweeks with me. I was sure I would read during the ceremony. How could anyone find entertainment in over six hundred people's walking across a lawn?

Can you imagine my amazement when we stood for the graduates and got goose bumps? Was it the kettle drums and trumpets, the dignity of the candidates' filing behind their college's banner, or the sun that peaked out from behind the clouds to welcome us? Was it the symbolism of the Sallyport, the entryway in the main building where Bryan matriculated by walking in under its arch four years ago? Others felt it, too. I have rarely seen so many people so quiet for so long outside church.

The ceremony combined dignity, pageantry, and excitement. The colorful flags on the building fluttered like banners on a castle wall while Sen. Bill Bradley spoke about our rapidly transforming world. I was reminded of the generosity of another Houston patron besides Will Rice when a life-flight helicopter flew overhead. A man named Hermann founded a world-class medical center across the street from this world-class university.

Bradley's speech was mercifully short and not particularly memorable. What was memorable was when Rice's president, who looks like a cross between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, said, "Will the faculty associates, Masters, alumni, parents and friends of Hanszen College please rise and applaud the candidates?" To understand this you must know that Rice is organized into a college system which many consider one of its biggest assets.

On entering Rice, each student is assigned to one of eight colleges. The students live and eat at their college, which takes the place of sororities and fraternities. Since it is both the living and the social group, the students identify closely with their college. In fact, Rice grads ask one another, "What college are you from?" before "What degree did you get?" The degrees were also given by college, and Rice graduation paraphernalia indicated not only their degree, but their college. Bryan was in Hanszen.

I am proud to say that, out of the eight colleges, Hanszen not only had the largest number of honor graduates, but we made the most noise when asked to stand and applaud.

I wish I had thought to bring noisemakers, as some of the families of the graduates did--or bubbles or helium-filled balloons to release when "their" graduate walked across the stage. But we cheered loudly enough that Bryan should have felt honored. By the time Bryan walked across, we had become friendly with another couple, and we were cheering with and for one another's kids. We cheered for all the kids we knew--friends of Bryan's.

Of course, Bryan didn't even hear us. It was one of those awesome moments where sound doesn't exist.

I enjoyed the symbolism of watching the graduates file out through the Sallyport, where they had come in years before. On the other side were refreshment tables. Everyone was thirsty.

There in the shade we found Leslie, Bryan's former roommate, now in a grad program at MIT, who had come to Houston for Bryan's graduation. What a happy day!

I was surprised by how much fun it was to meet Bryan's friends and take pictures. But that was just the last surprise in a day full of joy. Isn't it those moments you don't expect that fill life with wonder? I hope we never get beyond appreciating the little serendipities God brings our way--even when our expectations are low.