- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

Watching the chaos outside Elstad Auditorium at Gallaudet University earlier this month as tearful, frustrated and angry students and parents were shut out of Eastern High School’s graduation ceremonies, my heart went out to them.

Shame on D.C. school officials. Too many tickets were issued for too few seats on June 7 because some bright bureaucrat forgot to account for the graduates.

Sorry, those hasty mea culpas — a substitute second ceremony and a subsequent reception — did little to make up for this milestone moment missed.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey was right to immediately establish a graduation task force to prevent a replay next year. But someone’s paycheck should be a little short, too, for putting parents in the predicament of being unceremoniously pushed away by police on what should have been one of the happiest days in their lives.

After all, graduation ceremonies are not only for students but also for parents and grandparents, and sometimes for an entire community of extended family, friends, neighbors and parishioners.

Few experiences provide the same sense of accomplishment, pride and hope as a graduation ceremony. In those few fleeting steps, you discover that all your parental trials were for a higher prize and purpose.

The pomp and circumstance are heady enough payoff for giddy students who have spent years studying and taking tests, as well as being tested. For parents, the rush of relief is enough to knock you off your feet.

Or break into an impromptu chorus of “Amen,” as Florence Tate, the awesome and affable president of Potomac College in Northwest, did Sunday.

“That’s my daughter,” exclaimed one proud father, who jumped to his feet with joy when his daughter, Meta Edwards, sang a rousing a cappella spiritual after delivering inspiring remarks on behalf of her Potomac College classmates.

One minute a mom or a dad can’t wipe the wide, silly smile off their faces; the next they find themselves so overcome with emotion that they could drown in their prideful tears. Let us not forget how ridiculously geeky we parents look tripping all over ourselves and each other trying to capture those scrapbook cap-and-gown moments.

I was that geeky parent, twice within 72 hours within a week.

My goddaughter, Jasmine M. Offutt, graduated from T.C. Williams High School on Thursday at George Mason University’s Patriot Center, along with 600 classmates. My son, Mario E. Washington, graduated Sunday from Potomac College at the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, along with 67 adults — the youngest 29, the oldest 59.

The rough journey to achieve their educational goals was in no way easy for either of them. Both, in individual ways, overcame obstacles that came close to thwarting their efforts. Both, with the help of family, friends, community and dedicated educators, persevered.

Though both graduated with impressive grade-point averages, Mario had a surprise for us in obtaining his bachelor’s degree in management. An asterisk by his name in the program and the yellow tassel dangling from his cap signified that he had triumphantly made the dean’s list with a 3.71 GPA.

Get out the tissues.

With one child entering college and another graduating from college, these past hectic days reminded me that obtaining a college degree is more than a notion, for parent as well as student.

Last week, I met and talked with educators and administrators to assist my graduating children at Shaw University, a historically black college in Raleigh, N.C., and Potomac College, an intimate business college, with D.C. and Herndon campuses, tailoring their curriculum specifically to working adults.

“Our students are special,” Ms. Tate said at the graduation ceremony. “They work full time, and they go to school full time, and they have come the lo-o-ng way around.”

The school’s rigorous, accelerated program, which includes writing graduate-level applied research projects, takes longer for some than others, many of whom are working mothers, she added.

I raised my hand when I heard my grandmother’s “nothing beats a failure but a try” motto uttered during the keynote speech delivered by Searetha Smith-Collins. This lifelong educator noted that she was “among the 1.2 percent of African-Americans with doctoral degrees in this country.”

While Mrs. Smith-Collins was applauded appropriately, the straight-talking Ms. Tate aptly challenged her charges: “1.2 percent? 1.2 percent? You all have got a lot of work to do.”

Parents can complain about the sorry state of public education, but we have got to do our part, too. We must get back to making education a priority.

People with diplomas and degrees were once revered in our communities. The old folks, like my grandmother who taught in a one-room school, preached that higher education was the key to opportunity. Today, education is the key to our survival.

My graduating son and goddaughter are but a mirror of thousands. Their unspoken message to millions: I did it, and so can you.

Congratulations to all, pomp and circumstance or not.

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