Just over 5 years ago, I graduated from that Southern Part of Heaven, that priceless gem, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In a sea of Carolina blue, I wildly waved my tye-dyed mortar board in hopes to catch the attention of my family across Kenan Stadium. I was 21, gainfully employed, with the world at my fingertips.
Fast-forward to yesterday, May 19, 2014. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. The trash trucks were moving and shaking, because Monday is trash pickup day in my neighborhood. Luckily, I didn’t need their rumbling to act as an alarm. I could hardly sleep as it was. I get the same way when there’s a big trip in my future, or when I have someone visiting…. It was the day I was graduating from Penn and, after 2 years of toiling over projects and papers and field work and research… I was readier than I ever could have imagined. A few tweaks to the basic black graduation cap purchased from Penn, and VOILA! Let’s do this.
My dear friend Samantha and I suited up (robed up?) and headed towards what might be the most inspiring graduation procession I could fathom. Penn has this incredible tradition called the procession of degree candidates, or simply the procession. Graduates from every school, program, and corner of campus gather together in their robes to saunter through campus which is surrounded by onlookers, faculty, staff, and Penn community members, many of whom come out every year, who are cheering, congratulating, and celebrating right along with us. As the MPH program is rather small, we were placed right next to the med students.
I’m not a doctor…. but I get the feeling this won’t be the last time I’ll be marching alongside them in my career.
Arguably the most touching aspect of the procession is passing through the tunnel of flags held by Penn alumni from days of yore. As you pass, each and every one looks you in the eye, shouting out congratulations, clapping, and welcoming you to the fold.
Quakers dating back to the Class of 1944 acted as the ultimate welcome wagon, before we rushed over to Franklin Field for the top show in town. But before we got there, we passed on other living Legend.
John Legend, biggest man on campus (at least for the day), was our commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Music degree. After calming down a bit after spotting John, we waltzed onto the field (ashamed to say this was my first time, where’s your school spirit, JP?!)
It was a packed house, with robes of all colors representing students in the fields of medicine, design, law, social work, and engineering, as well as undergrads, business school kids…. goodness, the list could go on seemingly forever.
The speeches were incredible. President Amy Gutmann spoke of the soundtrack to our Penn experience, complete with a performance of Gangam Style, because she’s a boss like that.
John Legend explained to us that they key to happiness is opening your mind and your heart to love… How when you truly care about something, you want to lead. Apathy is no longer cool (I’m not sure it ever was…) And I won’t pretend that we didn’t get a little serenade…. it pays to have 9-time Grammy winners as alums.
And before I knew it, it was time to turn my tassel, as I’d officially joined the ranks of Penn Alumni myself. Of course, that doesn’t account for the jog I had to make to my own, smaller graduation ceremony, specifically of the Public Health department.
There were a few speakers…. Oh, and I was one of them.
There was no serenade on my end, but a discussion of absolute truths, the world changers among our group, and, of course, Law and Order: SVU.
I promise, it made sense at the time.
And then, just as swiftly as it began, my time as a graduate student at Penn ended. I was surrounded by beloved friends and family, laughter (and a few tears…. I am a sensitive Sally), and then my folks and I scurried off for some steak, potatoes, and sparkling wine. I can’t think of a better send off into the world of adulthood (again).
You might be wondering, “What’s next, Jordan?” Well, we’ll keep that a little mysterious. But let’s just say it’ll involve gainful employment, a lot more opportunities for blogging, plenty of adventures…. and it’ll all be in Philly.
I’m sticking around my fair city of brotherly love, and can’t wait to see what it’s got in store now that I’ll be rocking that steady income and that 9-5ish.
Stay tuned, because your girl’s back.