Graduation Day: No Longer the Mother of a Cadet

Dorie Grigg's view of her graduating cadet in McAlister Fieldhouse. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Graduation Day, Saturday morning was foggy but the forecast called for clear skies and warm temperatures. Perfect weather for a parade, but we would spend the morning inside the field house waiting for our cadets name to be called.

Each cadet is given 8 tickets. Some could request an additional 4. The place was packed. The school posts the statistics for the graduating class on their website just after the ceremony.  Close to 500 cadets graduated that morning.  I was told some classmates did not pass the physical training test and would not receive their diplomas until that requirement was met.  Some cadets had additional credits to make up and would receive their diplomas at a later date.

A sea of Citadel graduates makes it difficult for families to find their cadet, prompting Chelle and Dorie's game of Where's Waldo. Photo by Stanley Leary.

We were happy to see our friends the Spysinski’s, from our hometown of Roswell, sitting just 2 rows in front of us.  Our son’s first visited The Citadel together the summer before their senior year in high school.  It seemed a fitting way to close out our 4 years there by sitting near each other. We were in a corner high above the band, but facing the graduating class. Before the Commencement began I read through the program.  Imagine my surprise when I found my son’s name listed under “Distinguished Military Students.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  For the past 4 years I had to read the press releases posted by the school to learn of honors or accomplishments my son achieved. He told me very little.

At one point before the diplomas were given my daughter and I played a modified version of the game “Where’s Waldo.” The cadets were all in their full dress salt and pepper uniforms making it very difficult from a distance to tell who was who. We were helped by the fact that they were seated in alphabetical order, but it was still difficult to find particular cadets. My husband, photographer, Stanley Leary, had the unfair advantage of looking through the long lens of his camera. He found Nelson first.

Cadet Nelson Lalli receives his diploma from Citadel President Rosa. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The speakers were very good, but of course we waited for the name of our cadet to be called. Surprisingly, I did not shed one tear. I just beamed with pride and happiness for his accomplishment.  I did, however, have a lump in my throat at the end of the ceremony, after the president announced, “Class of 2011 Dismissed.” I watched as the cadets threw their hats in the air then began to hug, shake hands, and punch each other in the shoulder, in a good way. These young people are leaving their time as cadets but have joined the 30,000+ alumni members of the Long Gray Line of graduates. They will always be connected to each other.

At the end of the ceremony the scene that played over and over again began again.  Hugs, handshakes and photos.

Stanley, Chelle, Nelson and Dorie pose to commemorate the moment. Photo by Blake Lalli.

This time it lasted a bit longer.  My son had to endure even more photos as members of his father’s family and our family all wanted their time with the graduate. To pass the time my 12-year-old daughter decided to look for her brother’s hat.  She methodically checked each one on both sides of the field house. After Nelson declared “No more photos,” and was walking toward the door he looked down and found his hat.

Chelle and her brother Nelson. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In one quick motion he flung his hat to Chelle ala Frisbee style. She promptly put it on and we begged him for one more photo. He obliged, but I’m convinced it was ONLY because it was his baby sister.

All across the field house floor and outside the field house families and friends repeated the graduation ritual of hugs, handshakes and photos. Everyone was beaming. The afternoon of graduation gatherings were just beginning. I did note as we drove off campus 2 different sets of shoes were left on the side of the road.  One last show of quiet defiance by a rogue cadet or two.

Bravo Company mates: L-R Jordan Jackson, Brian Papke, Caleb Hund, Dan Viegas, Nelson Lalli, John Ogle. Photo by Marty Viegas.

We attended a late luncheon hosted by one of the Bravo Company families. They arranged to have a room at a local seafood restaurant.  It was a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with the families we have come to call friends these past 4 years. They had a cake made for the occasion.  Our sons decided it had to be cut with one of their swords, as they did each year on Parents Weekend to celebrate their classmate’s birthday.

As I write about our weekend I’m smiling. Our cadets took the road less traveled and succeeded. We supported them on their journey and gained some wonderful friends. Approximately one-third of the cadets at The Citadel enter the armed forces. Those of us with children entering the military are joining a long line of military parents that have gone before us.  We’ve set up a Facebook group titled “Military Parents of The Citadel.” to continue the bond that started when our children were cadets.

The transition is now complete.  I am no longer the mother of a cadet.  I am the mother of a second lieutenant in the United States Army. The learning continues.

Bravo Company cuts their graduation cake. Note each has a finger on the sword slicing the cake in half. Photo by Marty Viegas.

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