The Graduate


Dr. Robert B. Pankey

When I was in my final year of college, before graduating with my terminal
degree, I would spend hours in my office typing my dissertation, feeling sorry for myself, and at time losing my motivation.  I was spending too many hours on the weekends at Texas A&M, working on final papers that were due from my graduate classes.  I recall how I began to question why I was putting so much effort into obtaining another degree, a doctorate, from A&M.

I thought of the rainy nights walking across the A&M campus going toward the Education Building and thinking how fortunate all my friends were who were able to be home sitting around the kitchen table with their families where it was warm and comfortable.  Often as I passed the Sul Ross statue in the middle of the campus, I stopped and looked up at that bronze figure of a man and gave ole Sul Ross the peace sign with only half of my fingers raised and asked myself, "What's this education stuff all about?”

One weekend, I remember working on my dissertation when I heard a tremendous roar coming from inside the G. Rollie White Coliseum.  It was the final "Whoop" that all A&M graduates make once their final ceremony concludes.  After the “Whoop,” they file out the front doors of the Coliseum into the waiting arms of their families.   Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers enfolding the graduates in their arms, taking pictures, laughing and crying over their Aggie sons or daughters who have accomplished so much.


The “Whoop” interrupted my concentration and I decided it was time for one of my many coffee breaks.  As I walked along toward the Student Union and my needed coffee, I passed by the graduation ceremony in progress and a family that gave me hope at a time I was questioning the reasons for my pursuit of my doctoral degree.


As I walked past the crowd, I noticed a Hispanic American family huddled around their daughter who was dressed in her black graduation gown, standing tall.  Her younger sisters and brothers were hanging onto her arms, wanting to show her their excitement and pride, wanting to feel and touch this person who had just accomplished what her family had once thought of as inconceivable.


The mother was taking pictures of the family, and standing behind the mother, out of the picture, was her father, a small man dressed in a new black suit that was probably purchased just for this occasion.  He had no smile or look of excitement on his face.  His eyes were glassy, but I could see he was honored by his daughter's accomplishment.

Later, as I sipped my coffee, the scene of this family settled in my mind like a slow motion movie and the emotions that this family expressed overwhelmed me.  Here was a family whose mother and father might not have had the chance to go to college.  Their daughter may have been the first of their family who had paid the price, mentally and physically, to accomplish what had not long ago  been considered unthinkable.


It occurred to me that my own quest for a degree had similar overtones.  My mother had no resources to support me through my graduate studies.  I lost my father, weathered financial storms, struggled through marital problems, and overcame the separation from my young son whose mother  had moved him to Arizona.  By all rights, there was no way that I should be the member of my family who was finishing college with a doctoral degree.

It wasn't until I encountered this Hispanic family that I finally realized that my pursuit of a doctoral degree wasn’t about me anymore than it was about the young Hispanic girl who had just graduated.

The pursuit of an education is about the people who are affected by your accomplishments: your children, your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins, and, of course, your friends.   They all share in your accomplishments.

From that day forward, I put aside my self-pity for what I had been viewing as the burden of my pursuit of my doctoral degree.  Thanks to the family of the new graduate, my resolve was renewed. 


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