Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Commencement of Samantha Cahan

A few weeks ago, I completed an exit interview of sorts with Notre Dame's chapter of HerCampus, an online publication for which I sporadically write. You can read it here. I thought I was all kinds of hilarious when I filled out these questions, and for the most part, this remains true. I would direct your attention, however, to the final question.

"You're about to graduate from the University of Notre Dame. Congratulations! Last thoughts?"

Because I am me, I replied with, "If I trip and fall on stage at graduation, will I become Internet famous like Lizzie McGuire?"

Flash forward, dear readers, to the first day of Notre Dame's commencement weekend, two short days ago. I straightened my hair and remembered to unplug the iron and not burn the dorm down. Success! I made it through the graduation reception for Major #1 without incident and with free chocolate-covered strawberries. Success! I ate steak in the dining hall. Success!

And then came the graduation reception for Major #2.

It should probably have been a red flag that, at the only one of my ceremonies where I would spend the entire time sitting on stage, I was assigned a seat in the front row. Nonetheless, I took my front row seat, in front of my closest English-major friend but with complete strangers on either side, and settled in for the festivities. Professors talked about the power of words and how we should potentially be good at using them by now. Thesis writers were recognized and their incredibly bleak-sounding titles read. I yawned a lot. And then, the undergraduate studies director announced, it was time for a game!

The undergraduate director listed off a series of accomplishments. Stand up and then sit back down, he instructed us, if you'd double majored. If you'd had two majors and a minor. If you'd studied abroad. If you'd written for a campus publication. As it happens, I did all four of those things, and with each successive return to my seat after standing to be recognized, my chair slid further and further towards the back edge of the platform. And before you could say "it's all fun and games until...," the back legs of my chair slid right on over that edge.

Now, had I been seated in the back row, on the fourth and highest platform, this would be a very different story, because I would probably be dead. Seeing as I was in the front row, however, this remains a funny if pathetic story and easily the most typically Sarah Cahalan thing that has ever happened in the history of earth.

There was no gap, you see, between platforms as they were placed front to back. The only gaps between the platforms were six-inch verticals, and this is the gap into which my chair legs fell.

Luckily for me and for everyone in the audience, my skirt was fairly modest in length and I managed to fall back into the next row without flashing the entire Decio Mainstage Theatre. I could not manage, however, to get myself out of this moderately compromising position without aid.

I want to be abundantly clear here: this was in no way subtle. It was handled with some measure of comportment insofar as I simply fell straight backwards and sat there - "thank God you do theatre," as one of my friends in the audience later put it - but it brought the proceedings to, you know, an utter, grinding halt. As you recall, the graduates seated on either side of me were complete and total strangers. So, while well-intentioned, they were aggressively unhelpful in my attempts to recover from my Lizzie McGuire moment. Eventually, after the aforementioned English BFF had confirmed that I was okay and followed with "BLOG POST BLOG POST BLOG POST," the department chair came over and dragged me out of the chair by my wrists. Since the chair was stuck between platforms and my legs were dangling several inches above the ground by way of their attachment to said chair, this was literally my only method of escape. I waved to the audience, placed my chair roughly 50 yards from the back edge of the platform, and returned to my seat.

Proceedings continued, and the undergraduate director not once but twice read my name as "Sarah Callahan."

I'm waiting, Internet fame.

The rest of the weekend came and went largely without incident. I smashed into an expensive-looking piece of sound equipment at the Folk Choir senior concert, sure, but that's nothing new. Saturday's breakfast reception, afternoon Service Send-Off, and evening mass, all fine, and this morning's university commencement, great.

Sure, I have third-degree sunburns all over my face and I look vaguely like a hunchbacked troll in the photo of my friends and I that's circulating all over the Internet, but, I mean, details.

The final event of the weekend was this afternoon's diploma ceremony for the College of Arts and Letters. While the morning ceremony in the stadium is technically The Big One, it is this final event where each member of the graduating class has his or her name read aloud as he/she walks across a stage, shakes hands with fancy people (possibly wizards), and receives The Diploma. Knowing how well pronunciation of my last name typically goes, I was a bit nervous going into this ceremony. When my alphabetical-order seatmate and former London roomie arrived, I felt somewhat better. Her shoe had straight-up fallen apart as she walked to the ceremony, she was holding it together with safety pins that stabbed her foot whenever she moved, and she was saved from walking at graduation barefoot only by the grace of God (read: a stranger two seats down who happened to have the same size feet and an extra pair of shoes in her bag).

Surely, I thought, this is a sign. Something can't go that utterly and hilariously wrong for my seat neighbor - and not even a stranger, at that, someone I lived with for four months - and then go wrong again for me, right?

WRONG! I filtered through the line of graduates. Byrnes. Cable. Caesar. The moment of truth. I'd had the name-reader as a professor during my sophomore year, so I wasn't too worried, but what would he say?

"Samantha Margaret"

The day's debate has been how closely he came to correctly pronouncing Cahalan. I thought he basically got it right, but I was a bit distracted by the fact that he READ MY FIVE-LETTER FIRST NAME, THE MOST COMMON FEMALE BABY NAME OF THE 1990s, AS SAMANTHA. In the man's defense, he'd had the card in front of him with my phonetically-spelled pronunciation guide for maybe one second by the time he read my name. There were people missing from my row. Someone's diploma had just gotten mixed up with someone else's. Tensions were high. All of that said, though, he read my name as Samantha. I have basically never been more confused in my life.

The confusion only multiplied, however, when the faculty assistants handed me The Diploma. Having been thrown off by their newfound belief that my name was Samantha, they could not find my diploma in the stack. They handed me a random, empty diploma folder, whispering that if I came back up later, they'd find me my real one.

Needless to say, by the time I returned to my seat, my friends in the row ahead of me could barely breathe for how hard they were laughing. Basically, my Notre Dame career had ended exactly how I always thought it would: absurdly. I did get my real diploma after the ceremony ended, confirming that I did in fact graduate and the Arts and Letters faculty weren't pulling a terrible, cruel trick on me.

I am reminded that, in my freshman year, the guy administering the swim test attempted to convince me upon finishing that I had failed. "Do you want to take swimming?" he asked as I crawled out of the pool.

"Well," I thought, "I would rather tie lead bricks to my ankles and jump back into this Olympic-sized pool, but yeah, dude, totally, that's why we're all here." I said no.

"I'm totally kidding," the monster guy said with a chuckle, "you obviously passed."

It just seems to fit, then, that my college career ended today with the handing over of the same empty diploma frame that would be handed to someone finding out that - surprise! - they didn't actually graduate after all. I fell on stage at my graduation ceremony, and a professor I'd had in class mispronounced my name when I got my diploma. Yeah...that sounds about right.