Graduation season sprouts many memories

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

About this time last year I spent a Sunday hanging out in the parking lot of NRG Stadium. It was one of the most rewarding days of my life.

It was commencement day for the University of Houston, and two of my children were graduating on the same day.

They took different paths. My son, Bobby, spent six years in the Air Force, including two missions to Afghanistan. He then became a full-time college student and worked part-time.

My daughter, Stephanie, spent seven years at a national retail chain and managed stores for five of those years while going to college. She then decided to become a full-time college student and finish up her major.

And, as it turned out, these two very different paths crossed on that Sunday, with back-to-back ceremonies that lasted into early evening.

I was a proud parent twice in one day, taking photos, sitting through some pretty long, but mostly interesting speeches, and then waiting as each of them walked on the stage to accept his and her degree.

We were among the thousands of relatives who cheered, waved, celebrated.

We ate sandwiches, chips, fruit and snack bars in the NRG parking lot between ceremonies. It was sweltering hot outside, cool inside. By the end of the day, I was sticky and tired, but filled with pride that these two siblings, who followed such different paths to earn a college degree, achieved their goals.

A year has passed by, but the memories are as fresh as the day they were made. It was a very special day.

What are the chances that a brother and sister five years apart would go their own way and then wind up graduating from college on the same day? More importantly, walking on that stage represented the final few steps of two very long journeys. The fact that they completed their education says a lot about the people taking those steps. There are millions of them each year, and each one of those graduates has the right to be proud. The first of many successes has been achieved.

I went to my high school graduation, but not to the college one. I already had moved to Bay City and started my career in journalism at the Tribune in 1979.

Journalism jobs back in those days were hard to find, and I had one. I was going to work exactly in the field for which I prepared. That was bragging rights. I would have gone to the end of the world to work as a reporter. As it turned out, I only had to drive 1,714 miles.

My mother made it to my high school graduation ceremony. Her education was cut short in Europe by WWII, which lasted four years – from the time she would have started high school until she would have finished it. The war cut short her formal schooling. Then there was a revolution and her escape from behind the Iron Curtain with her 10-year-old son. She stayed busy.

She convinced one of our neighbors to go with her to my graduation. and she was beaming with pride the entire time. I didn’t see her as my name was called, but I would imagine that she soaked it all in. That part of her work was done. Mine had just begun.

Congratulations to all you graduates out there, and to the parents who helped to make it possible. It’s a wonderful experience. Cherish it forever and take lots of pictures and videos. You’ll be glad you did.