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College degree and a six-pack to go

By Jason Offutt

A sea of college seniors in black caps and gowns stretched across the sidewalk. They waited to step into the basketball arena, shake hands with the university president, and become constructive members of society.
Or not; one of them was me. At the time (1987. Good lord), becoming a constructive member of anything wasn’t something I considered vital or even vaguely interesting. I mean I already had a pool pass for that summer; a job would just get in the way.
“Do not come to my graduation,” I told Mom a few days before the ceremony.
“Why not?” she asked.
Hmm. Should I tell my mother the truth and disappoint her? No way.
“Because it’s just not a big deal to me,” I said, hoping she’d drop the subject, which she didn’t. Mom came to my college graduation, and brought my grandmother. Well, I tried to warn her.
Graduates were arranged by discipline, so I stood with the engineering majors because my major was mass communication. I know that doesn’t make sense. It was part of the plan.
My best friend Steve, an engineering major, and I were going to graduate together, darn it, no matter what. So I cut ranks and walked in with Steve. That was important. He had the plastic cups.
It was hot in May 1987, so all I wore under my gown were baggy Hawaiian shorts and flip-flops. The shorts were important; the flip-flops were just to show I wasn’t wearing pants. The pockets of my blue shorts with big red flowers were large enough to hold a six-pack of beer, which they did that day. Steve brought cups because we didn’t want to be too obvious.
“What if somebody sees us?” Steve, who never cared about the consequences of anything, asked as we walked into the building.
I shrugged.
“What can they do? Not let us graduate?”
He smiled and we walked in.
Sitting on folding chairs on the basketball court surrounded by our peers, it was comforting to know our plan had gone smoothly so far. Mom was the only thing that could make the plan fail. I scanned the filled arena and sometime during the opening address I found her. She and my grandmother were specks on the opposite side of the building. Perfect. They couldn’t see me.
I pulled a beer out of my robe and handed it to Steve who poured it into a red plastic Solo cup and handed it back. We did this six times, got high fives from the engineering majors around us who should have thought of it (duh), and graduated. Mom didn’t see a thing.
Years later, when I did care about being a constructive member of society, if you consider being a writer to be constructive, I interviewed a woman whose sister went to my school. I told her when I graduated.
“Oh. That’s the year my sister graduated,” she said, then frowned. “There were a couple of jackasses sitting in front of me drinking beer. They almost ruined it for me.”
I grinned, thankful she wasn’t my mom.
“Uh, yeah,” I said. “I was one of those jackasses.”
The interview ended early. You know, some college stories aren’t quite as cool when you’re a grown up.

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