May 6, 2014, the most monumental achievement of my young life up to date. College graduation. I was feeling a range of emotions. I was so ready to be done with school and start the rest of my life, but I also wasn’t sure what that entailed. For the time being that meant right after graduation, driving my packed-to-the-brim Honda Accord back to my parents’ house. I wasn’t happy about this, because it felt like backtracking. I also had no job leads or even the faintest idea what I wanted to do. The longer I was jobless, the longer I was at my parent’s house indefinitely. Not to mention, Kendrae still had one more year of school at LeTourneau, which was three hours away from my parents’ house in Van Alstyne.
Even with all my internal mulling, my excitement of surviving four years at LeTourneau University was unrelenting. It all felt so surreal. My family was driving out from Van Alstyne, with my best friend Cassey in tow. My grandparents were flying down from Ohio, and one of my uncles was joining as well. My family was never much for celebrating; we didn’t send out announcements or make a spectacle of the event. But I was so damn proud of myself. I was going to be the first person in my family to graduate college. This weekend was going to be about me. After 22 years, I certainly earned one weekend of being celebrated.
My roommate, Kayla and I, happened to be seated right next to each other in the lineup. It was reassuring to have a familiar face and a friend’s hand to hold during such an important experience. The ceremony flew by, and reality had yet to sink in. As our graduating class marched out of Belcher Center one last time, I tried to emotionally capture that exact moment. The feeling of sheer accomplishment. A mental snapshot, that I could recall upon for years to come.
I walked out the double doors and out into the bright, May sunshine and scanned the crowd in search of my family. I spotted Kendrae first. My eyes always have a way of finding him. I approached my group anticipating a warm embrace, but was quickly met with reproval.
Why are you wearing shoes that tall?
Oh, I wish your hair was blonde!
Sarah, why did you get your nose pierced? You know you’ll never find a job that way.
You didn’t get Cum Laude…
The cacophony of criticism sucked all the wind out of my freshly set sails. I forced a smile for the camera and pushed my tears down. The sooner we got this over with, the sooner we could go and eat my “celebratory” graduation lunch. And the sooner I could get everyone off my case.
After lunch, Cassey and I rode back to campus with Kendrae to retrieve my car. She gave us our privacy to say goodbye, and all the tears I had been battling for weeks came pouring out. I could barely utter a syllable let alone accurately tell this man how I truly felt about him. Kendrae gave his best efforts at comforting me and reassuring me this was just a ‘see you soon’ rather than a ‘goodbye.’ But truthfully, neither of us knew when we’d see each other again. I had no idea where I would end up. We parted ways, and as I watched his truck drive off, I was overwhelmed with a fresh flood of tears.
The car ride home with Cassey was a welcome relief from all the negativity. She apologized for my family’s reactions and rude responses, as if she had anything to apologize for. No matter what Cassey and I were up to, we had a great time. Our good experiences were better together and our not-so-great times were chalked up to adventures. We found ways to laugh a little more, worry a little less and always had each other’s backs. Her presence was salve to my freshly wounded spirit.
With each passing mile, the distance from Longview to Van Alstyne seemed to stretch further and further away. Most of the conversation circled back to Cassey’s bewilderment that my family had not even bothered to get me a cake, which was the least of my concerns. The family had beaten us home and feathers were already ruffled when we walked in the door. My grandmother was distraught about a family situation that she did not agree with. The discussion about how this situation should be addressed was becoming increasingly raucous. My grandmother looked at Cassey, and stated, “Cassey, you need to go.”
Without a hesitation, Cassey retorted, “that’s fine, but Sarah’s coming with me!” And we walked right out the door with not as much as a goodbye from the group.
Cassey and I sat in her car for a few moments before leaving the driveway. “I’m so sorry, man,” she said as tears were welling in my eyes yet again that day. Had I been too self-centered? Were my expectations for my family too high? Was one day of kindness and support too much to ask for?
“We need to get you a drink,” Cassey announced, “and then we’re getting you a cake!”
To be continued…