Friday, June 15, 2018

Duke Graduation Ceremony (May 12)

Andrew defended his dissertation on July 21, 2017; we moved on July 24, and after arriving in Utah he had a couple of weeks to submit his revisions. He officially graduated on September 1, but his diploma didn't arrive in the mail until September 24 (which was quite a while ago).

September 24, 2017
So it felt a little odd to fly back to Durham to attend the graduation ceremony in May. We feel at once like we've just left (it hasn't even been a year!) and that graduate school was eons ago (it's been almost a year!); whichever way we happened to be feeling at any given moment, it was wonderful to go back to North Carolina (if only for a few days). 

The Sanford School graduation ceremony was in the morning. We got there plenty early and I thought we chose good seats, but since not many people ended up sitting behind us we ended up being somewhat in the back, which I suppose was fine because I had a squirming baby to attend to—a ridiculously adorable squirming bay to attend to. 

We kind of a have an unwritten kid-per-degree rule in our house so this isn't our first graduation with a baby in tow. In fact, it's our third. Rachel was 9 months old when Andrew graduated from BYU with his bachelor's degree and Miriam was eight months old when Andrew graduated from AUC with his (first) master's degree. We dressed them up in the robes Karen made for Andrew to wear when Reid graduated from BYU (thirty-something years ago).

Though we consider him our MPA baby, Benjamin missed out on dressing up as a tiny graduate because he—for once in his life the following sentence applies—was born too late. Andrew graduated from BYU with his (second) master's degree in April of 2012 and Benjamin—for all his trying to come early enough to make it to graduation—wasn't born until June.

Zoë, on the other hand, was born right in the middle of Andrew's degree so she was a full-blown preschooler by the time he graduated with his PhD—a bonus baby (but also definitely a PhD baby).

Anyway, somehow between Miriam wearing the gown in 2010,* us moving from Egypt to Utah to North Carolina to Utah, and Andrew's parents moving from Orem to Daybreak to Spanish Fork, no one has any idea where the original set of robes are anymore. This was a very sad discovery to make and I almost gave up on the idea of dressing another baby up in graduation robes (mostly because sewing doesn't rank high on my list of skills). So I tried to borrow a set (sending the word out on Facebook) but I all heard were crickets. And then I thought, "Shoot—I've already got the hard part of this whole baby-in-grad-robes project in my hands! I'm somewhat crafty. I can make graduation robes, too."

And so I did.

Between getting home from Alberta (on May 7) and leaving for North Carolina (on May 9) I gathered supplies and threw together some graduation robes for Alexander. I got an oversized black t-shirt for him and snipped it up the front (the same way I did for Rachel's Hogwarts robes). I sewed on a gaudy button and made a quick button hole. I added some blue stripes on his sleeves and a little stole made out of fleece. The hat was definitely the most difficult part. I took his head measurement from his 6 month well-baby measurements (44 cm) (because he was sleeping when I made his hat) and cut the fabric with some sort of seam allowance. The mortarboard top is just two pieces of cardboard (7 inches on each side) stacked with their corrugation running perpendicular (to prevent bending), covered in black fabric. There was definitely a glue gun involved for that part, though I sewed it onto his little cap, added a fabric-covered button to the top, fashioned a tassel out of embroidery thread and...presto:

Could he be cuter?
An older gentleman who'd come to the graduation came over to snap a picture of Alexander. He said, "However long it took you to make those robes was well worth it."

Oh, it was. As was, I suppose, the time it took to gestate that baby and write that dissertation. Ha!

I, unfortunately, tend to be a somewhat flakey photographer and so my pictures of the day didn't end up being fabulous, but here's Andrew hugging his advisor (the professional photographer is in the way (and I don't know if Andrew ordered professional photographs, though I hope that he did)):

Here he is making his way back to his seat:

And here he is leaving the ceremony:

I didn't take notes during this ceremony, except when one of the program directors said something about wanting the parents to know that their children "are going to change the world, even if they are living in your basement." I texted that little remark to Reid and Karen for...reasons (like the fact that we're currently living in their house).

Mostly it was too hot and bothersome to take notes. I was trying to keep Alexander from fussing and even though we were indoors it was still sweltering. They even had little wood paddle fans that they handed out to people, which seemed so quintessentially southern (boy, I've missed the south!). So I was juggling a baby, a camera, a fan...

But we made it through the ceremony (if you want to watch it, you can find it here) and the hot trek over to the reception, where Alexander promptly fell asleep. Here are some pictures of Andrew with sleeping Alexander in front of the building he spent more time in than he did his own home for about five years:

Here are a few pictures with some friends at the reception (those poor PhDs were all melting in their robes)...

Ade, Puneet, Me (with Alexander) and Andrew
Lisa, Andrew, and Me
Andrew with Ade

It was terribly hot (even under the canopy) but the reception was nice—a little buffet and lots and lots of water/sweet tea to quench everyone's thirst. We were more than happy to leave the reception, however, to visit with Judith in her air conditioned office for a bit:

After that—in a fit of insanity—we decided we'd take a stroll through campus and down to Duke Gardens, stopping by the chapel first, naturally:

I should have taken greater care to avoid shadows...somehow...but, as I mentioned, I'm not exactly a stellar photographer and the lighting was rather harsh. So...we'll have to live with shadows.

By the time we made it to the gardens, Andrew, who was still wearing those heavy robes (originally designed to keep scholars warm in unheated classrooms, according to several sources, so why are we wearing them in the south in the summer? Because it's tradition. Tradition! Tradition!) was so incredibly hot that we didn't get too many photographs before he decided to strip them off in favour of self-preservation.

So then I had to fulfill my picture-taking quota by photographing Alexander instead:

When we were at the rehearsal ceremony the day before, a staff member came up and asked me how old Alexander was, so I told her. She squealed, ran off, and returned with a Duke Sanford School onesie and teddy bear. Apparently the school had just gotten them in—their first baby gifts—and she was excited to give a set away. Alexander is such a snuggly little guy and so he took the teddy right away, giving it a great big squeeze.

He's so cute! But I know full well that his childhood is going to fly by because when Rachel wore her robes I made a quip about how we'd just have to wait 17 years or so until she would again don graduation robes...and now suddenly she has only 7 more years until high school graduation?!?? How did that happen?! We're going to have to soak up every minute with this little guy...because they sure don't stay little long (everyone always says that...because it's true).

We were so exhausted from our walk on campus but didn't quite have time to head back to the Rogersons' (where we were staying) so instead we hopped into our rental car, drove to a local park, and took a family nap with the a/c blasting before headed downtown for the hooding ceremony.

The hooding ceremony included all PhD graduates, so it was rather long (like hours long, if you care to watch it you can do so here), but I did enjoy the keynote speaker, Dr. Mimi Koehl (who is both dyslexic and a Duke graduate). I even managed to take notes, but I suppose since they recorded the whole ceremony my noting taking efforts were rather pointless (if you really want to see how accurate they were, you can listen to her speech here, starting around 1:10 (that's the one hour and ten minute mark, not the one minute and ten second mark, in case you were wondering)).

Dr. Koehl spoke about how life is a path, not a ladder. A ladder has clear, defined steps and leads to one location. A path is more of a journey. You can get on and off the path, you can decide which fork in the road to take. It is at times uphill, other times down, it can be rugged or smooth, and, frankly, if you can see the goal and are willing to do what it takes to get there, you can forge your own path. Alternatively, a path you start on might pop you out in a surprising location. It's all part of the journey.

Next she advised us (well, technically the graduates, but really everybody) to be "your best, not the best," which is far more instructive than the current government slogan "Be Best." Clearly, this hints at doing the best you can do without trying to be better than the next. Competition might fuel productivity but, boy howdy, is it ever unattractive.

She talked about a crystal ball where you can see into the future. "I can see into the future and you're collecting all this stellar what?" I think basically we're supposed to find the reason our work is important. What is the point of doing what we do? What problems are we going to solve? What is the big picture? Why is this important?

"Have mentors," she advised, "But have more than one."

That point made me tear up a little as I had already been thinking of all the mentors our family while we were at Duke, both academically and otherwise. Andrew's advisors and fellow classmates, our neighbours, our ward family, our elementary school family, our family family. Sometimes you have to know where to go to get the right advise (not necessarily that you should go to the person who will give the advise you want to hear, but the one who will give the right advise, the one who has experience or knowledge dealing with what you have questions about). So have mentors, but have more than one (because not every mentor knows every thing).

In that same vein, she advised us to "do safe things and do risky things."

She has a formula for this, of course.

(P x V)/T, where P= probability of success, V= the value of your work, should you succeed, and T is your time. If your P is high and your T is low, your V will probably also be rather low. So somehow it all needs to even out...or something. Formulas. Boy, I dunno.

I tend to do a bit better with narrative, so, to sum up: You can't take big risks all of the time or you will lose too many times, but you can't always do safe things either or you won't gain anything. It's a tricky balance but one that is important to figure out.

I didn't take any pictures of Andrew during the ceremony because we were way at the back again (babies...sheesh) but I did take this video of him walking across the stage and getting formally hooded (rather, it's a video of a video of him...):

The degrees were handed out in alphabetical order by program, so Public Policy was pretty far down the list. But by the time we got to the last few names the audience was really tiring of clapping. Some cute grandpa stood up and started urging the crowd on. He was clapping his hands high in the air and waving his arms to remind people to keep clapping—because every student had worked hard. That was sure nice of him, to get up there and hoot and holler for all those students he hadn't come to see himself.

But, oh, you should have heard how the crowd went wild when the very last candidate walked across the stage! I'm sure that person felt pretty awesome (though the audience was really just happy the ceremony was finally over).

We were let into the adjoining room for an amazing buffet. I think I had a billion spring rolls (but there was other stuff, too). You could tell Duke is a school with serious money (because at BYU, for example, we were lucky to get a cookie (and at AUC we got nada)). We even had an ice sculpture to mark the occasion...

Here's Alexander hanging out with his buddy Puneet:

She was always so fun when we'd bring the kids to campus—she'd break out her big yoga ball for them and even had playdoh for them once. Whenever we'd come to campus she was sure to come running to find us (when she'd inevitably hear us in the hallways, not that our children are at all cacophonous or anything).

And here's Alexander's face saying, "Good night!" after a long night of revelry. He was so worn out after such a long, formal day (though, in all honesty, dressing him up in robes helped because he was so darn cute that everyone had to stop and chat with him and he likes attention so was all smiles for most of the day):

It was a long, long day filled with a lot emotion: excitement, pride (for Andrew being his best self, not in him being better than anyone else, of course), a sense of closure. I'm so glad we could go because sometimes what you need at the end of a long journey is a bit of pomp and circumstance.

Congratulations, Andrew! We're all so proud of you!

* Actually, the last time Miriam wore them was in 2012 at Rachel's fifth birthday party! Grandma dug them out of her costume box for Miriam to use as Hogwarts robes because she was sad that Rachel had some and she didn't. So who knows what happened to them after that...
** Fun fact: for quite some time, Pomp and Circumstance was Josie's favourite childhood song. I think because we dragged her to a few too many graduations at such an impressionable age. She hated flowers (of any kind) for a similar reason—we'd taken her to far too many funerals as a child and she associated flowers with dead people. 


  1. This is so wonderful and Alexander was adorable. I work in the Sanford Communications Office. I will try and get you the photo of Andrew hugging his advisor if it came out. May I share this link with people at Sanford?

    Jackie Ogburn

  2. I'm just now fully reading this. What a great post and cute Alexander pictures. I'm glad you had a good time! And, wow, it's almost been a year since you left for your new home in Utah!