My Grey Commencement – How my Education Came Full Circle

On Nov 2, 2023, I went to my commencement at Humber College to receive a Playwright Graduate Certificate. Humber graduated about 2,600 students and celebrated with five ceremonies, so it was me and about 500 other students. I walked into the hall, and the ticket collector directed me toward the audience area. I pointed out that I was one of the graduating students. Her eyes widened and she said, “Oh, OK.” She instructed me to go to the end of the long entry hallway and pick up my gown. Each step was met with a look of surprise by the youthful grads. As we queued in the hall by discipline, I looked around and realized I was the only grey-haired student in the room. While my fellow graduating students were in their 20’s and 30’s, I was 72. They were all fresh faced and excited. I kept looking for a chair so I could sit down, as my hips hurt.

We were seated in the order graduates walk across the stage. I was surprised to get a chair across the aisle from my three guests: my wife (a Humber grad), my daughter (a Humber grad) and my 10-year-old granddaughter. As my name was called, they shouted, “Go Grandpa, go Grandpa.” The audience joined in. I never went to my first university graduation, so going to this one was a big deal. I also never got a university ring, as I had no money in those days. This time, I wanted a class ring. The ring salesman had samples of the modern rings, but I ordered a traditional classic design. I wear it every day.

When I decided to take the Humber School Creative Writing Graduate Certificate in play writing, applying was a challenge. As this is a graduate course, I had to submit my undergraduate transcript. Assuming you graduated in the past 40 years, you go online, pay $10 and a few minutes later, it arrives. I graduated from a small America university in August 1971. There are no computer records for that far back. The service had to contact the school, request that the microfiche be pulled and printed, then mailed to Humber.

Once I was accepted, I was charged for student health insurance, $140 per semester. To opt out, I had to go to a website and enter my details. I called the company a few minutes later with a problem. “Don’t you know how to fill in a website form?” “Yes,” I replied. “I’m retired from a career in computer R&D. The problem is on the birthdate page. The year drop down goes only to 1953. I was born in 1950.” I mentally counted to five, then heard, “Get out of town.” “No, I’m serious.” Five more seconds, then she apologized. “I’m not upset. I think it’s funny.”

A lot happened from the time I graduated from university in 1971 and the second time in 2023. When I was young, I was part of the JFK’s Whiz Kid program. We were accelerated in school and fast-tracked math. When I started university, I skipped the first math course and took the second, because I told them the first was a repeat of what I studied in grade 10. I wanted to take the third and fourth math classes together. “But 4 builds on 3.” I aced both. My only challenge was that I used techniques from the fourth in the third final. The next year, I loaded up on undergraduate third- and fourth-year courses. That summer, I started graduate courses.

In 1970, male graduate students wore a suit and tie to class. Most were married and attended evening courses, as they were coming from work. My favourite professor’s usual outfit was a black two-piece suit with patches of chalk dust, a white shirt and a dark, thin black tie. He always addressed the students as Mr. or Miss. Everyone was formal except me. I wore denim cut-offs, a white T-shirt and sandals, and my minibike was chained to the lamp post outside. I had long blond hair, a face that saw a razor maybe once a week, and I looked 16. Everything about me seemed carefree, except my fingernails, which were bitten to the quick. I had nothing in common with my classmates. Students my age were struggling with the courses I graded as part of my school job.

Flash forward to 2023. The irony was not lost on me. I was considered too young for my first grad courses; too old for my last. I guess I will never get it right.

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