May 5, 1985: It was a bright sunny Sunday morning, Mother’s Day in fact. I had been waiting my entire life for this moment, even though I was never exactly sure if and when the moment would occur until 4 years earlier. The moment? My Veterinary School Graduation.
I had been on campus for hours prior to the start of the ceremony and only got to see who was in attendance after the processional. The music swelled and the crowd cheered as the long line of graduates marched to our seats on White Hall Lawn. I scanned the audience. I spotted my Mom, Dad, Grandmother, two of my brothers, and my best friend, Andy Teague all sitting at various points in the audience. I also noticed an unexpected guest: My Aunt Gladys, form Indianapolis. She had no doubt arrived via her preferred mode of conveyance, the Greyhound bus. No small feat. It takes a bit of planning and effort to get to Tuskegee, Alabama especially on graduation day.
For those who don’t know, graduation ceremonies at Tuskegee University are spectacular events and the most special of occasions. At that time and probably so today, so many of the graduates had gotten to this point the hard way. A lot of blood, sweat, time, and treasure had been expended to accomplish the goal of wearing a cap and gown during the outdoor ceremony. Many graduates were the first in their families to graduate from college, so the pomp and circumstances was not just for the graduates. Tuskegee graduations are also star studded events. In addition to the local/state politicians and school associated dignitaries one would expect, there were celebrities. In attendance that day were Tuskegee native Lionel Richie, actress and singer Lola Falanna, and an individual you may have heard and read a lot about recently, Bruce Jenner. Leave it to Tuskegee to always be on the cultural cutting edge, even 30 years ago. I have no idea why these people were in attendance, but they were all on stage to shake hands and congratulate each of us on our accomplishment.
The sartorial splendor of the audience was a sight to behold. To call it a fashion show would have been an understatement. Every color, combination, and imaginable style of dress was represented. In contrast, attire of the graduates paled in comparison. Underneath our traditional black gowns and mortar boards, men wore white shirts, black tie, slacks, and shoes and the women wore black dresses, complementary hose and black shoes. We were strictly warned during the two mandatory graduation practices earlier in the week that deviation from the prescribed dress code would not be tolerated and would result in being precluded from the ceremony. The powers that be were so serious about this. Each and every participant was checked by a “dress code” marshal when we lined up. A few did not head the warning and paid the price of being excluded. A shame because we were the last class to graduate with diplomas that would read “Tuskegee Institute.” All future students would be graduates of Tuskegee University.
The memory of the event is mostly a blur of relief, excitement, and pride. I frankly don’t remember who the commencement speaker was or the topic of his address: something about responsibility, entering the work force, and becoming contributing members of society. Typical commencement speech content. The one thing I will always remember were the big hugs I received from my Mom and Dad, their smiles, and their pride in my becoming a veterinarian. After the ceremony, I presented my diploma to them, which hangs on the wall of my parents home along with my first state license certificates. I may have earned those various certifications, but they truly belong to my parents.
Dr. Pierre Bland is a small animal practitioner who offers office and house call appointments to his clients. His offices are located at 3225 N. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and can be reached at 954 673-8579.