It might have only taken me three years to finish my second college degree, but last week’s commencement ceremonies at the University of Utah represented the end of 15 years of waiting.
You see, when I graduated from Southern Utah University with my communications degree back in the summer of 2006, spawning my dream career as a professional sports writer, I never got to walk across the stage and hear my name called. Thanks to being hired for my first job just a couple weeks after finishing my final semester, my celebration consisted of getting my diploma out of my mailbox in rural northwestern New Mexico in mid-December, and I was in the midst of covering high school baseball when my commencement ceremony rolled around the next spring in Cedar City.
This time, I wanted to do the whole graduation thing right — though even that didn’t go exactly as planned. Thanks to COVID-19, each graduate was limited to just a few guests. My parents drove up from New Mexico to join me for my socially distanced ceremony, held in the spacious (and still-under-construction) confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium, rather than the air-conditioned comfort of the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
I’m still sporting a rather unfortunate mortarboard tan from spending two hours sitting on an artificial-turf field under the blazing Salt Lake City sun for two hours, but that seems to be a small price to pay.
Once the ceremony started, it seemed like any other of the numerous commencement ceremonies I’ve attended over the years, though this one was special in that it was actually my own. Even though I’m roughly 15 years older than most of my fellow graduates, I still felt the same sense of accomplishment and optimism that the student speakers projected in their comments to the graduating class.
And to hear my name called over the public-address system as I received my diploma cover, with my face on the JumboTron? That might have been the sweetest moment of all, and it wasn’t just for my own sense of satisfaction.
This was for my grandparents. As my grandmother was in her final days of life in the summer of 2016, she had a list of requests for all of us. Her request of me was to go back to school and get my Spanish degree, telling me that it was going to change my life. Because of her encouragement, I graduated with a 3.936 grade-point average, with only a limited amount of credit hours keeping me from graduating cum laude. In her memory, my grandfather continued to support my pursuit, and I know it was a special moment for him as he watched the live stream from his house in Moab.
This was for my parents, who missed out on the opportunity to see me walk across the stage all those years ago. This was for everyone who has supported me in any way over the years, and even to prove everyone wrong who might have doubted me.
In a word, it was awesome.
A college diploma might just be a piece of paper, but that sense of accomplishment and pride will last a lifetime.
Darren Vaughan is the sports editor for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin. The memory of last Thursday will never fade, though he hopes his sunburn eventually will. Email him at email@example.com.