The slate blue cloth draped down her back almost to her waist. It was framed by a background of black trimmed in red. Originally it was a hood to cover the head in the wind and the weather. Later, the colors began to tell a story, the story of an academic life.
The hat told a similar story. The higher the degree the more differentiated the design. It started with mortarboards, still common in undergraduate commencement ceremonies. The cap began to vary into a velvet square with a tassel of gold.
The robe told its own story. Originally it provided warmth in the unheated buildings inhabited by clerics in medieval times. It later evolved to represent the institution where the wearer studied. Colors indicated the school, subject and type of degree.
The design of the sleeves and the chevrons, or markings on the sleeves, all tell a story. They are all a symbol.
I watched my niece, Addison Bentley Ponder Fields, walk across the stage this past weekend at Indiana Wesleyan University to receive her diploma and hood signifying the completion of her degree as a Doctor of Occupational Therapy. I watched her have the hood placed around her neck. The symbols told the story in an academic sense, but I knew the story in the practical sense.
Addison, along with her sister, Bailey, and her brother, Davis, grew up next door to our own family. They are all smart and all successful. Like all my other nephews, they are all college graduates and successful in their chosen careers. All their grandparents would be so proud.
All of them have had challenges during the past couple of years, particularly due to Covid. They have all persevered and moved forward in their career choices. Even as I embrace retirement, I watch with joy as they build their own careers and families.
The hood draped on Addison’s shoulder told a story. It was a symbol of her hard work and dedication. No one can ever take that away from her, no matter where her career and life may take her.
We all have symbols of our success and commitment. Flags are a symbol of our commitment to our country, our state, even our favorite football team.
Doves are a sign of peace, something we desperately need these days. The cross is a symbol of Christianity, spirituality, healing, and forgiveness. Have we ever needed healing and forgiveness more than today?
I could not have been prouder as I watched the slate blue hood draped over Addison’s shoulders. It was the culmination of her own academic journey. Yet, it was given at her Commencement Ceremony, which means the beginning. The beginning of using her talents and her education to help others. It is the calling which she has answered.
I could write an equally glowing essay about each of my children, nieces, and nephews. However, this past weekend belongs to Addison. It was her day in the sun, her moment on the stage and her time to bask in the result of her hard work and dedication.
A symbol of substance. It comes in many forms. Addison wears the hood of a Doctor of Occupational Therapy. Mary Lou and I wear the beaming grins of a proud aunt and uncle. She has earned them both.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org