I placed the doctoral hood over his greying hair. I draped it evenly and secured it with the button loop to black gown. He removed his bifocals, touched the corners of his eyes with a clean handkerchief, and feigned a smile. I handed him the mortar board.
Was it already 21 years since I’d wed a 4th year medical student! Why did this ceremony seem more emotionally stirring? The question puzzled me. After all, I did attend his last graduation. I looked back for an answer.
He’d earned Phi Beta Kappa as a Vanderbilt junior in undergraduate and was reaching for Alpha Omega Alpha honor society following our wedding. I taught high school, typed his papers, listened as he rehearsed talks, washed and irons and cleaned and cooked, helped him research data. During the school year, I lined up medical secretary jobs to do at vacation time.
He added his A.O.A. key to a chain and filled out our internship requests. With disbelief in April, we learned his first couple of choices did not also choose him.
Every 17th night I was alone and he went without sleep.
Graduation was planned as an outdoor event. I bought daylight film for the 16mm magazine camera my mother sent. I washed walls in our $65 a month apartment in preparation for my in-laws visit. The apartment was so humid, my hand-set hair stayed moist; removing rollers reassured me it’d be straight for the event.
My in-laws comments about being glad no one else was attending graduation to see how shabbily we lived caused me unspoken pain. I earned $2,900 a year. Except for tuition and books, we lived on that.
I recall running the no-flash-attachment movie camera in the gym, putting precious money into footage with only hope some frames would produce an image. Other than that, the transition from MR. To DR. is a void.
Promises my in-laws extracted from me, that I would not get pregnant this next year either, ended the event.
He got a grant from the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation and researched, interviewed, assembled data. I worked for the summer in doctors’ offices until teaching commenced. We collected our urine and ‘sold’ it for research, and I think he earned 50¢ an hour putting blood test results in patients’ charts. He slept home every other night.
Internship ended, and the temperature chart I’d kept for a year to learn to read said now. We moved in with my mother and our first son was born during first year residency in New York City.
A one-bedroom apartment near Strong Memorial Hospital with two cribs, a double-bed, bathinette, and chair all in the sleeping room was how we spent the next two years of residency. He earned $50 a month. I free-lance wrote, sewed clothes, did 200 diapers a week, typed a paper he researched/wrote that won him a cash award.
The Public Health Service took the following two years, and we moved back to Rochester with me five months into my third pregnancy.
Occasionally I got a sitter and left the rented house to hear him deliver a lecture. He was a fine full time teacher. He was sent to Cleveland to learn about hemodialysis and the artificial kidney under Dr. Willem Kolff. Excited, he had a storeroom converted (at Rochester General Hospital) into the first treatment room in Monroe County for chronic-use hemodialysis. He loved being a clinician and eventually went into private practice with some teaching rather than vice-versa.
He’s a superior physician and a superior human being. Receiving the opportunity to become a Fellow of the American College of Physicians was tangible proof his peers saw something special too.
Our older son will be a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, considering medicine. Our second child, a daughter, will be an Advanced Placement student at Cornell this summer. Our younger son is now 13 and already on academic honor rolls. The quality of their father’s time with them has enriched their lives.
The band began to play in the Dallas convention Center theatre. I snapped a flashed 35mm picture of the stage. Its emptiness was stirring and stimulated interest for its filling. A procession started. I smiled, camera poised, only to soon find out he marched in from another entrance.
Dignity and quiet elegance permeated the room. All this ceremony would forever remain in my mind. Respect and admiration for new Fellows, Masters, dominated.
We shared this convocation with our 21 years of friendship and love. We shared this graduation with security as self-sufficient adults. We shared it with certain knowledge that this award shall never be dishonored. We shared it wondering if any or all of our children might one day carry its honor.
There’s a peace and contentment that often comes with middle age. One can step back and review the years while anticipating further growth.
How lovely to turn a tassel at this time.
2013. Has it been 57 years already, and the Vanderbilt Quinc for 50 years past medical school happened awhile ago? Tassels. More turned. Our older son did become a physician, daughter with two university degrees became a nurse, younger son became a CPA. They gave us 15 grandchildren. Amazing. More incredible, however, is my husband again wore a cap/gown/Doctor of Medicine hood to place a Doctor of Medicine hood over a grandson’s shoulders!
I sat in the darkened hall at The Ohio State School of Medicine graduation. My daughter’s son and my husband marched across campus quad in a processional. My son-in-law toting a cumbersome video camera caught the colors. Grandpa’s ‘hood’ was gold, and grandson’s was crimson. For me, it was 1957 as well as 2013. I watched the hood being placed over a grandson’s shoulders and attempted to hold back tears. He’d won an the Dept. of OB-GYN award for his performance during school, and was noted in the Landacre Research Honor and as a Cum Laude graduate; we’d attended that ceremony earlier in the day. But the commencement attire was different. We’d been at his Vanderbilt undergrad one watching that tassel turning, and the lawn set-up couldn’t be used as it rained. I smiled then.
Now I’m so grateful to have seen another generation don the honorable hood: Doctor of Medicine.
©1977 American College of Physicians