Daughter #1 has graduated. Who would have thought? As I write this post I am seriously trying to wrap my head around the idea that I have a child who is now a graduate. And my head is too big to wrap around anything; believe me, I've tried.
My wife flew me halfway around the world to make sure I was present at the ceremony. In my state of ignorance, I assumed it was a one-day affair. It wasn't. The day before the main event there was what may be termed a mini-graduation for students of colour. This is a ceremony for non-white students and is to celebrate their achievements. In deepest Minnesota...
It was very moving listening to some of the graduands give speeches elaborating experiences which they went through because of their race. America today. It was instructive that the event was held inside a chapel in a building that also accommodates a mosque, and every single non-white graduand (and their families) of the Class of 2018 was able to fit into space. Not that many I guess.
Towards the end of the programme there was an open mic session. I'm not in favour of open mics at any event. I find them unpredictable and they introduce an element of uncertainty. Anyway, it's part of the tradition and it went ahead. It was a bit of a weeping festival as various family members stood to eulogise their child and promptly broke down in tears. Understandable really; it's an emotional time, seeing your beloved child successfully ending their time at university. The one word that kept popping up in my head: Miracles.
There was a lady from Tonga who spoke about her daughter being the first in their family to go to university. The whole family (12 people I think she said) missed a connecting flight for this graduation! Do you know where Tonga is?? And I thought my daughter was far away. She spoke for rather a long time, but that's the kind of thing I mean.
The students were presented with lovely stoles that looked like kente but were not. There was a brief musical performance at the end of the ceremony and the band included a Ghanaian student (not Alia). Just thought I would mention that.
We visited the various faculties that Alia had supposedly been a member of during her time at Macalester and met her lecturers. The comments from them about my daughter were pretty incredible. One of them wept openly about losing Alia. Please, when I say wept I mean wept. Tears were rolling down her cheeks like Boti Falls during the rainy season, she could barely speak, and she kept pausing her conversation to reach out and hug Alia! Eish! Really, Alia, my daughter can make someone cry for positive reasons?
That was not the end. In the evening we attended an informal dinner hosted by the family of one of the graduands. A very pleasant atmosphere indeed, American food, cold drinks (in a very cold state like Minnesota), no music, and some of Alia's mates. It's fascinating speaking to young people of your child's age; your eyes can be opened to different perspectives. And their parents too were just as interesting. And to think that Alia was concerned about us not socialising enough!
And so on to Commencement the following day. It was supposed to be held outdoors but the weather had been playing up and had turned into a bit of a lottery. To avoid any wahala they held it indoors. It was a huge auditorium, beautifully set up, with 2 huge television screens behind the stage so you could follow proceedings from wherever you sat. There was a real buzz around the place, excitement in the air, and a very real sense of anticipation.
We caught Alia just as we entered the building so we took pictures before we sat down. My baby was looking lovely. Actually so was her mother, in particular. In fact, an Asian woman came running up to us and asked if we would mind if she took pictures of our group! She then joined us for a picture herself. I know it was certainly not because of me!
The brochure was a simple affair, well laid out, but the list of names seemed fairly random and was a loose insert. I heard a story the next day about how the order of names was established. It includes a rehearsal and a mad rush for seats at the rehearsal, and seats being reserved by any means necessary. Funny.
Time warnings began appearing on the television screens from about 15 minutes to the start of the event. Can you imagine that in Ghana?! No, I can't either. At 1:30 pm prompt the auditorium doors were flung open: bagpipes! Oh man! I got goosebumps so big I could have been mistaken for a hot-air balloon! Wow! Bagpipes, drums, marching! Hot damn! This is how you conduct a procession! Flags of nations represented at Macalester next, 32 of them, and joy oh joy, there's the Ghana flag! I swear I didn't know what to do with myself! The flags were lined up at the back of the stage on poles. The procession took 12 minutes.
Of course, I only had eyes for one Alia Baitie in the procession, and when I saw her she was busy collecting fans from some fanatical friends in the audience. Her academic cap had strange designs on it, some shiny ghetto tins, but some Ghanaian fabric as well, thank God.
I considered taking a knee during the singing of the American national anthem, but you'll be glad to know I didn't. The President of Macalester gave a quite brilliant speech which included him dropping a small bag of frozen snow on the stage; don't ask. The Senior Speaker (a student) was black. Just thought I would mention that. It got better. The Commencement Address was by a Ghanaian, an alumnus of Macalester. Great speech! Go Ghana, go Ghana, go Ghana!
Presentation of degrees started and was long, plenty names. Of course, I only heard one name. There was some seriously biased cheering as the non-white kids went totally overboard cheering their own. Alia got her fans big time; in fact, they never finished mentioning her name on stage before the fans took over. I noticed that the most common name seemed to be Elizabeth. Just by the by.
There was a Prayer for Peace at the end, offered in 5 different languages, one of which was...Fanti! I swear my mother (who was Fanti)! Another set of bagpipes as we processed out and into a melee of hugs, kisses, and photographs. Wonderful! Alia introduced us to her favourite lecturer....who never actually lectured Alia. She seemed to know a bit about me, which I found rather scary. One never knows what a child has said about her parent...
We finally made our way to Alia's shared residence. She and her housemates hosted their parents and friends to dinner. International students, international families, international food, and lots of international empty booze bottles! Ei! Is that what these children have been doing? It was such a convivial atmosphere especially since we were all strangers to each other. From Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, India, Japan, Trinidad & Tobago, and of course Ghana. People were sitting on the floor eating, selfies galore, different languages flying about....and I spoke to a gentleman from Trinidad & Tobago who didn't follow cricket! How??
And that's not all. Alia's American host parents had us over for dinner as well. We barely crawled into their house after the first dinner. They have a lovely lakefront house; the late sunset was one to behold. Their 2 old dogs joined us and made me miss our dogs in Accra. Like any good student, Alia left with a bag of ribs (take away?) and cake. She went jamming after all this, and had the decency to invite us. I politely declined.
What next for Alia and her still-in-shock parents? She's grown up. We went shopping while in Minneapolis and as I watched her buying make up, wearing the tiniest shorts I have ever seen, I realised that I am still growing up myself. A few short months ago I would have flipped at the sight of those shorts. Now....well, she's a woman, innit? I heard the nicest thing ever over this graduation weekend. Someone said to me: "You know, your daughter Alia may just be the most loved person on campus." God is good.
Alia has been terrible at staying in touch. There were times when if not for the regular bill coming from Macalester I didn't have any proof that she was actually in university. We have had little or no information about lectures, grades, social events, friends, travel, you name it. In a way that has cured some of us of our separation anxiety. When your daughter is many thousands of miles away in Minnesota there is NOTHING you can do, except the most important thing: PRAY. The first time I walked her route home from campus....at midnight....on very dark quiet roads....with a very large black dog following you along a fence and staring silently....I began to understand all the horror movies I had ever watched. And I also learnt how to intensify my prayers from many thousands of miles away....
Alia has worked hard, put in a huge effort, and graduated. I know, that sounds like a school report, but we are so incredibly proud of her. She came home 4 times during the 4-year period, and I visited her 3 times. So it must be the Lord who watched over her, not me.
But now I can say with certainty: my daughter and Kofi Annan graduated from the same college. And like him....Alia has never developed (adopted?) an American accent. Amen.
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