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.

The Citadel: Saying Good-Bye, But Always Connected

I really thought I’d be more emotional this past weekend. It was Corps Day Weekend.  The weekend when The Citadel celebrates it’s founding. During this weekend the Summerall Guards change to the new class of cadets and the Citadel Family Association holds its final meeting of the academic year.

The Citadel Family Association area representatives representing: Georgia, Florida, California, Massachusetts and New York. Photo by Stanley Leary.

It normally doesn’t take much for a tear to come to my eye.  Given this weekend of good-byes, I really thought I’d need a whole box of tissues. It didn’t turn out that way. Friday afternoon, I attended the Citadel Family Association meeting. I’ve served as the Cadet Recruitment and Retention Coordinator this past year and this meeting is when I introduced the new coordinators.

Seeing so many parents whom I now call friends out weighed my grief over leaving this chapter of my life. I had a great time seeing; and in some cases meeting face-to-face for the first time, parents I’d worked with via Facebook and email the past year or so. It was so much fun seeing everyone that I didn’t dwell on the fact that I may not see them again.  With Facebook and email, I know I’ll continue to be connected and in touch via cyber space.

Shamus Gillen of The Citadel Admissions office presents Dorie Griggs with a Recognition Award for her volunteer service. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Friday night was also a celebration. We went to dinner with two other families and their cadets.  My son is a 2011 Summerall Guard from Bravo Company.  Their sons were incoming 2012 Summerall Guards, also from Bravo Company. This dinner wasn’t about good-byes but rather celebrating the achievements of our sons.

Saturday morning was the real test.  It was the time I came the closest to shedding a tear. In a very formal ceremony on the parade field the 2011 Summerall Guards passed their rifles to the 2012 Summerall Guards.

Cadet Nelson Lalli (second from left) and the 2011 Summerall Guards prepare to pass their rifles to the 2012 Summerall Guards. Photo by Stanley Leary.

My son would pass his rifle to his good friend.  As the time approached for the exchange I could feel the emotion and the tears begin to well up. Seeing the beaming parents of the 2012 Bond Volunteers as they marched on to the field to become the 2012 Summerall Guards kept me from dwelling on the sadness of an ending.

Good friends, 2011 Summerall Guards, Matt Spysinski, Nelson Lalli, James Harrell before the rifle exchange. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I refocused on the thrill of seeing the 2012 Summerall Guards perform the Citadel series for the very first time in front of an audience. Last year I was so happy for, and proud of our 2011 Summerall Guard I was smiling not crying.  It was a fun day that began with the rifle exchange and continued when we joined the other 2011 families at a luncheon and had the opportunity to purchase our “Summerall Guard Parent” t-shirt.

Saturday evening was time for more celebration, and probably the reason I did not become as emotional as I thought I would over this last Corps Day as the mom of a cadet. We spent the evening with several friends who are parents of graduates of The Citadel. I was the only one there with a cadet still in school. 

The 2011 Citadel Ya Ya’s reunion, plus friends. Photo by Stanley Leary.

These wonderful folks, part of the Citadel Ya Ya’s, traveled great distances so we could all have time to visit and catch up. Through this group, I’ve learned that just because your son or daughter graduates you don’t have to say good-bye to the wonderful friends you’ve made.

In a way, it must be how the cadets feel.  They may be separated by military service, job transfers, etc., but they share the common experience and bond that no one will ever break. Our cadets wear the Ring, and we share in their triumph and dear friends we have made over these last four years and the heartstrings that will always keep us connected.

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