UNL graduation both maddening, miraculous

Our youngest son, Magnet, is an official alumnus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, having sealed the deal on a bachelor of science in athletic training degree during the infamous "blown" ceremony Saturday.

In case you haven't heard, it was to have taken place in the glorious outdoors, on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium, a first for UNL since the Devaney Center — the traditional commencement location — is being renovated into a volleyball showplace.

Mother Nature had other ideas.

The day dawned windy, rainy, and blue-fingers cold, so the whole shebang moved to the Hawks Center indoor practice field. There the graduates stood in long, slow-moving lines, were handed their diplomas, and had their pictures taken before the banner of their particular college. And that was that.

There was no keynote speaker, or snarky jokes from the chancellor about falling asleep during finals or swimming in fountains. There wasn't a brass ensemble playing classy music.

Graduates didn't march to "Pomp and Circumstance," or switch their tassels from the right to the left to make things official

"Anti-climactic" was mumbled often among the legions of people milling about on the field's spongy Astro Turf. I can't argue with that, and at first I was pretty ticked about the whole blooming mess.

And then I opened my eyes.

I saw Magnet joking with classmates as they stood in line. I was able to tell them all how proud I was of the way they represented their university while working very hard for its athletic teams. I laughed when they clamored together for a group photo, looking proud, capable and ready to take on the world.

Hunka Burnin' Hubby and I met a few of their parents — some who were comedic geniuses. "Those kids are smiling like a possum eatin' a wasp nest!" said a goodhearted father wearing a weathered Massey Ferguson cap, faded jeans and well-loved boots. The man was a Gatling gun of clever comments that left us laughing until we cried.

"Take a guess what he does for a living," Magnet challenged us later, and shook his head to presumptions of farmer/rancher or mechanic. "He does own a ranch in Scottsbluff," he said. "But he's an anesthesiologist by trade." Our surprise made us snortlaugh even more.

Magnet took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the lavish Husker football training facility — a place that swallowed vast amounts of his time. We saw the machines and amenities required to keep the program healthy: rehab equipment, weight room, players lounge and locker room. We walked through halls lined with the portraits of Husker greats, noting the changes in helmets and hairstyles through the passing years. We mugged for pictures before national championship trophies and read the legend of the lucky horseshoe the players touch on the way to the field.

We shivered in the rain, grinning like possums eatin' wasp nests as we snapped family photos under the goal post, and before the decorated doors of Memorial Stadium.

Magnet's robe and tassel whipped wildly in the bone-chilling wind. I can still hear the door click behind us as we finally left the building — a symbol of one chapter closed and a new one just beginning.

Did UNL event planners drop the ball Saturday? Probably. The anti-commencement was a harsh end to years of hard work and considerable expense, and I understand why graduates and their families are so upset. But blessings often blow in when the rain starts to fall.

We couldn't be prouder of Magnet, and wound up thoroughly enjoying his graduation day. His next adventure will be the University of Nebraska Medical Center doctor of physical therapy program in Omaha, which he'll begin this fall.

Hunka and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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