Recently I was invited by my friend Sheila to speak at her husband Roy's graduation." Roy's the only graduate and it'll just be a small group of family and friends," she said. "I know it's not what you're used to, but it would really mean a lot to us." I was already over scheduled, but everything else would have to wait because it's not everyday that I get to witness a miracle.
It all began in the late 1950s when Roy was unable to obtain his high school diploma. Growing up in the rural south in the late 1950s taught African Americans many life lessons, but the lessons Roy had to learn were bitterly hard. He fled his home at a young age in order to seek a better life, and a better life he did find. One that included a wife, Sheila, who loved and supported him, seven beautiful children, and more family and friends than he could have ever imagined. Although he knew that God had protected him and blessed him all of these years, there was still something missing: his high school diploma.
Over forty years later Sheila began to make his dreams come true. Together they found an online program that would allow him to earn an actual high school diploma and not a GED. In the evenings after work, he would study and his entire family encouraged him during those times when he thought he could not go on.
It was only at the end of this story that I entered the picture and I played such a small part, but it touched me in a big way. I got to see first hand what faith, love and courage were all about.
Before the ceremony Roy was insistent that we practice, so I slowly donned my full academic regalia and waited for instructions. Sheila pressed a button and Pomp and Circumstance played from mini-speakers connected to her phone. Before marching around the small room, Roy said apologetically "I know you've done this a million times before." I listened to him and smiled and followed Sheila who had assumed the role of Commencement Marshal. In my peripheral vision I saw Roy wiping tears from his eyes as he took it all on.
Later when I got up to speak I was able to look into the faces of those who came to share this moment with Roy and Sheila and I saw how proud they were of him, but more importantly I saw how proud he was of himself. Not only was he about to receive his diploma forty-plus years after he should have received it; he was graduating with honors (he had earned a 3.6 grade point average)!
I work on a university campus and take for granted the degrees on my wall and the cap and gown that I have to wear twice a year during commencement. I barely even remember my own graduations-and I did it three times for three different degrees, but Roy's ceremony will stay with me forever as a cherished memory. I was humbled because I've taken my own experiences for granted and had failed to pay attention to how important every achievement was. Roy had accomplished something amazing and I wanted to pay attention this time. I wanted to honor him for never giving up on himself even when others had written him off. I wanted to bear witness to the love that Sheila had that made her put everything else on hold to help him achieve his dream, and I wanted to acknowledge that something amazing had taken place.
After I spoke I sat down trying hard to fight back the tears. Then Sheila got up, this time as a devoted wife and not the person in charge, and showed the audience the class ring that she was able to design after learning that the high school Roy would have graduated from had closed many years ago and she explained the significance of the color of his cap and gown. A benediction was given and the ceremony was over.
But Roy's life was just beginning. He had achieved the one thing he wanted more than anything else and it was miraculous!