When I was in 7th grade my mom graduated from Nashville’s adult high school. It was the first graduation ceremony I’d ever been to. As my mom walked across the stage to get her diploma I remember my dad clapping and wiping away tears and whispering to me, “No one will ever make me as proud as your mom has tonight.”
When my mom was barely a teenager she stopped going to school to become a maid. Then she met my dad, moved to the States, got married, and started having beautiful mixed babies. Heh. Once we settled down in Tennessee my mom started working various jobs. Usually in the food industry. My dad jokes that at times her pay checks mostly paid for our stint in daycare, but my mom insisted on working. It was just her nature.
But she wanted something more. She wanted to work in an office. To get where she wanted to go she knew she’d need an education so she enrolled in high school, and spent the next four years working very hard to make her dream a reality. The best part? She got pregnant and had my sister during her senior year. Nothing was going to stop her.
For whatever reason my dad’s words stuck with me. I could graduate Harvard with a doctorate in Awesome and there is no way that it would beat what my mom had accomplished. Every time I’ve walked across a stage to get a diploma since then (high school, college, and graduate school), I remember that moment and know that, “Nope, she still wins.”
And this year another McKinney graduate joins her ranks, in my mind.
A few years ago my brother called me. I was back in Nashville living with my parents, and he was still in Cookeville finishing up his undergrad.
“I need you to come to Cookeville.”
“Just come to Cookeville.”
My mom, understandably, started freaking out.
“What is going on? Is he ok? Why won’t he tell us what’s wrong?”
It’s a 1.5 hour drive, and we all came up with theories about Bobby’s mystery crisis. My mom’s theories were the best: He either had AIDS (I’m really not sure, either) or he’d killed someone and needed help.
Our favorite theory was that he’d knocked a girl up, and we were going to have a baby!
None of theories proved true. Bobby had failed out of school, and would have to take a year off. We were shocked, and disappointed that there weren’t any bundles of joy in our near future. Bobby came back to Nashville for what was possibly the hardest time of his life. McKinney Kids don’t fail, and McKinney Kids don’t stray from the beaten path.
He eventually went back to school, finished his degree in accounting, and got a job with the State. Life was back on track for the McKinney Kid.
But something just wasn’t right. And Bobby knew it. The next thing we knew, he had quit his job and enrolled in graduate school to become a teacher.
He probably doesn’t know it, but I have so much admiration for him for that move. For respecting his DNA and walking away from the comfort of a 9-5 job with a pension because it was soul sucking. For believing that everything would work itself out. For jumping and trusting that the net would appear.
The net did appear, and today Bobby has a masters in teaching and is the newest English teacher at the local middle school. And if he did walk across the stage (he won’t), I’d clap and wipe away tears and whisper to Otis, “No one will ever make me as proud as your uncle has today.”
It’s a proud tradition, indeed.