Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Everything Cheryl had ever worked for
was culminating in
a short walk across the stage
and a hearty handshake
with the Dean of Students—
a PhD at last!
She had dreamed of this moment
as far back as high school,
taking every advanced class possible,
cultivating all the right after-school activities,
even volunteering at a hospital for two years,
loathing every minute,
but all in service of the goal
of getting into the right college.
Then, when she attended the right college,
she studied through the night,
instead of drinking
and sleeping with her classmates,
and she double-majored and double-minored
and cultivated the right GPA
so that she could attend the right graduate school.
Then when she was in the right graduate school,
she studied through the night,
and courted all the right mentors
so she could be admitted to the right PhD program,
and when she was a PhD student,
she performed menial tasks,
studied through the night,
ate ramen for dinner and wore threadbare socks,
and had a brief affair with the wrong professor,
but despite all that,
she finished her dissertation,
and here she was,
and she didn’t have as many friends
and hadn’t had as much fun as some,
but she had achieved her goal,
and the achieving of the goal was the thing,
not the low-paying adjunct teaching job
that was waiting for her in Oklahoma City,
and after her name was called,
she took one step onto the stage
with her right low-heeled taupe pump,
joyful tears glistening in her eyes,
when her progress was suddenly interrupted
by an impossible sight.
Some freshman frat boy named Brad
or Chad or Thad or similar
had been coerced by his so-called brothers
to ride a bicycle across the graduation stage
while dressed as the Cat in the Hat.
The audience gasped, then many laughed,
and the furious dean of students
was demanding the young man’s capture.
Brad/Chad, as we will refer to him now,
ditched his bicycle once he was offstage,
ran down the steps,
was aided by guffawing accomplices,
stripped off his costume,
and disappeared into the crowd.
Meanwhile, Cheryl stood onstage,
her moment shattered,
her mouth gaping open,
her heart pounding in her frozen body.
The dean apologized for the interruption.
Someone ushered Cheryl across the stage.
They never announced her name again.
No one placed her doctoral hood over her head.
No one applauded her accomplishment.
She walked down the stairs back to her seat
and exhaled.
The ceremony continued without further incident.
Afterwards, her parents bought her a late lunch
at Applebees
before they drove back to Kalamazoo.

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