I am a good aunt. When my nephew Locust graduated from Loyola, I sat through a whole two-hour commencement. … The wrong commencement.
I got to explain.
Almost every graduation I ever been to in New Orleans has been held at the UNO arena, and me and my daughter Gladiola are running late so that’s where I automatically drive to.
We elbow in, wave an invitation that nobody looks at, hunker down in seats at the back and take out our smartphones.
First thing, I text my mother-in-law, Ms. Larda. “We R here in back.” I knew she had left early, and probably got a seat down in +front somewheres with the rest of the family.
She texts back, “Shh. Turn off UR phone.” Well, hers must be on, if she’s getting my text, I tell Gladiola. But Gladiola don’t hear. She is on Facebook looking at her friends’ graduation pictures.
I remember I have email to check, but first, I snap some pictures of the graduates down below. I like how they spell out messages with tape on their mortarboards. One has “WILL WRK 4 FOOD.” I guess he ain’t got a job yet.
Now, I got to admit this wasn’t a graduation I wanted to be at – there ain’t no graduation I want to be at unless it involves me personally being finished paying the graduate’s tuition – but my sister-in-law Larva’s oldest boy made it out of college in four years, and he deserves some credit.
I think a greeting card with a little money would be enough credit but, nooo. Ms. Larda made it clear that he also deserves two hours of my life sitting in an auditorium that’s air-conditioned to below my comfort zone.
I am in a short-sleeved dress with a full skirt, and I think about sitting way back in the seat and wrapping the back of my skirt around my shoulders like a shawl and hoping nobody notices. But I don’t have the nerve. I just open the graduation program and fold it over my arms for warmth.
I feel sorry for graduation speakers. They used to be able to count on people at least looking at them like they were paying attention, even if those same people were passing the time by taking deep breaths and counting how long they could hold them, or doing their Kegel exercises.
But nowadays the speakers just talk to the top of people’s heads. Everybody is looking down, checking their messages – except once in a while a phone pops up to click a picture of the professor who has fallen asleep on the stage behind the speaker.
I bet a graduation speaker could just stand there and intone complete gibberish – “Members of the graduating class, cluck, cluck, Bucca, bucca, bucca …” – for 20 minutes and no one would notice. Probably some speakers already have.
The schools could save a lot of money by having virtual graduations. The graduate would show up at the president’s office in cap and gown and carrying a selfie stick, click a picture of the president handing him his diploma and post it immediately on Facebook and Instagram. It would also save a lot of grandmothers from having to struggle into their pantyhose for the big day.
After a while they start calling out the graduates and I nudge Gladiola to look up so she won’t miss Locust. He should be one of the first ones, since his last name starts with A. But all the As go by, and the Bs and Cs, and still no Locust. “Did he graduate with honors and go up first, and we weren’t paying attention?” I ask Gladiola.
“Not with his grades,” she says. “He’s lucky he’s even graduating.”
I unwrap the program from around my arms and start looking for his name. I can’t find it.
Then Gladiola says, “That’s funny.” She shows me her phone. “Aunt Larva just posted a picture of him on Facebook – right there on the stage getting his diploma.”
I look. The banners on that stage are maroon. The banners on this stage are blue.
I look closer at my program. There it is, at the top. “University of New Orleans.” Not Loyola University.
“I think we can leave now,” I tell Gladiola. “And don’t tell nobody.”
We get to Ms. Larda’s for the graduation party just in time to jump into the family picture. At least we got the right family.