On the 17th July 2017, I woke to sunlight streaming between the slats of the venetian blinds, and was about to turn over and go back to sleep when the alarm started. I wondered why I had put an alarm on for a Monday morning when I wasn’t working, and it took me longer than I would care to admit that realise that it was graduation day. Mornings were never a strong point.
Jarred and me made it onto the university campus by 10 am, and immediately went into the union to collect tickets for myself, my parents, and an additional one I had got for Jarred as he was my “carer” for the day.
Then we wandered through to the back of the union to collect my graduation robe and hood. A porter was directing people to the correct rooms, depending on whether they were taking or returning robes, or whether they were going to watch the graduation ceremony live via a livestream. Without asking first, the porter directed me towards the room for watching graduation ceremonies. Surely someone in a wheelchair couldn’t possibly have obtained a degree?!?
“I’ve just been awarded a first class degree with honours,” I said in a matter-of-fact tone, “and am here to graduate.”
The look of surprise on his face was akin to the expression people wear when I tell them that my disability originated from meningitis; somewhere between Taylor Swift and brain-dead.
“Oh…” he eventually stammered, “then you need to go into this room please.” He ushered me into the robing room.
Putting on the robe was something of a calamity. Long, flowing material has a tendency to become entwined around the motors and wheels of my wheelchair, and I had to be careful not to get it tangled in the seat belt (most wheelchairs have them, I’m not just a really bad driver). As I came out of the robing room, the porter looked so sheepish that I was surprised not to see a yellow anti-sheep-theft tag dangling from his ear.
After greeting a few of my friends and course mates, Jarred and I went to meet my parents. Another period of awkward small talk in the midst of a crowd ensued, and then we were being shown into the Great Hall.
The front of the stage in the Great Hall was weighed down with ivy more plastic-looking than Nicki Minaj’s rear end, and the flowers weren’t much more organic either. I was given a seat on the front row, allowing me quick access for the lift onto the stage when it was needed.
Once everyone was in the hall and seated in the correct places, the next half an hour was spent clapping almost incessantly. I felt akin to a seal trying to earn an extra fish off its trainer. When I wasn’t clapping, I was high-fiving my course mates as they went past upon returning to their seats. Soon, my hands were red and tingling, and given the warmth of the day whilst smothered in black robes, they were sweaty too.
My surname means that I am always towards the end of any such procession, so it was quite some time before another porter was helping me into the lift, ready to ascend to the stage. For the most part, the clapping hid the droning noise as the lift hauled me up stage, but one awkward silence between clapping while a name was read out was broken only by the noise of the lift. Fortunately, it had solid sides, so I don’t think anyone noticed my face-palm.
The porter opened the lift door at the top, and my name was called. I drove across, positioned myself for the obligatory photo, collected my certificate, and returned to what I presume was the loudest lift in the entire world.
After the ceremony came the free lunch, which was the reason why so many family members had attended, and photos of the whole year group were taken. Then I was driving around, finding as many of my friends and lecturers as I could, posing for photographs, giving well-wishes, and saying goodbye to those I wouldn’t see again.
Once I had done all I needed to, I returned the robe to the sheep-porter (still looking sheepish), and meandered back home through the city centre. In the blink of an eye it was over, I had a degree, a huge student loan to pay off, was no longer a student, and was now expected to act like a proper adult. For all the happiness of achieving what I had, there was also a little sadness that it had come to an end.
Mum’s left foot is doing the disabled equivalent of a photobomb…