It’s a big day. Graduation. The sky is blue, the geese are honking, and the sun is shining — almost entirely on me, I think, because I can feel its heat, intensified by my black robes. They work as effective solar panels as Adrianna, my good friend and long-time sighted guide, and I walk toward the back entrance of the arena. Once inside, we’re directed to a series of tables crowded by black and blue robed graduates. We collect a card that displays my name and “Master of Arts,” which Adrianna waves before us like some fairy tale talisman whenever we get disoriented in the crowd.
Eventually, we find ourselves in a long hallway populated exclusively by black-robed graduates. Everywhere, people are adjusting their regalia and clamoring for safety pins. The “hood” seems to be causing the most trouble, probably because it is not really a hood. It’s more of a drape, or a cape, that lays across the shoulders and flows down the back, showing off the university’s blue and silver. Wearing it properly (and I know I’ve got it properly on now, because a few kind classmates helped me), I feel like an academic superhero!
But, as I said, I’ve got my hood and cap situated now, and the black 2012 tassel bats at my cheek every time I laugh or nod. Fortunately, the tassel is hanging before my bad eye, so it doesn’t become a visual hindrance. I feel rather stellar, once all the regalia is in place. I’m chatting with Adrianna and classmates, when a professor approaches.
“You must be Emily.”
She introduces herself. “You’re up front with me, dear. I’ll come get you when it’s time.”
I have two questions at this point: 1) How did she know who I was? 2) Why am I being placed at the front of the line? And the answer to both of these is the same. The Cane.
Moments later, I am standing at the front of the line of M.A. graduates and it dawns on me. I will be the first graduate to enter the arena. Adrianna realizes this, and we babble with nervous excitement. We can do this. She has guided me hundreds of times before. We will do this.
The professor gives the signal and we enter the arena to the sounds of a surprisingly crisp recording. Immediately, I become aware of the light and all the people. The next thing I notice is my cane’s sluggish progress across the ground before me. It keeps getting caught on some kind of tarp they’ve laid to protect the arena floor. So I cling to Adrianna’s elbow with more force than usual, taking care to pick my cane up instead of letting it sweep the ground.
As we settle into a walking rhythm, I feel myself begin to beam. Once we’ve established the pace and gotten used to the environment, I feel confident, and Adrianna does as well.
After a series of lackluster speeches, it is time for the conferring of degrees. Again, I am first up. Adrianna stands and offers me her arm and we follow the professor’s cues. We exit our row and walk forward across what feels like an infinite stretch of tarp-covered floor. I am used to this floor now, and the cane, happily situated in my hand, glides easily.
As we prepare to cross the stage, two friends of mine call to me in stage whispers. I turn a beaming face to them. I realize that, again, the white cane makes it easy for people to spot me. The dean calls my name and I am the first student to ascend the ramp and cross the stage.
This moment holds for me an unforeseen magic. The rush of excitement and delight I feel in walking up to the stage and across it is totally unexpected. I know that my name is barely audible because of the crowd’s enthusiasm. I know that the diploma case they hand me contains a form letter of congratulations and not my degree.
The delight comes from the feel of the cane in my hand as I walk, the press of the master’s robes and hood swishing against me, the tassel insistently tapping the left lens of my glasses. What makes this moment exciting is the white cane.
The white cane is part of my regalia. I feel honored and privileged because I get to bear it down the aisle and across the stage. I feel delighted that the first student to process in carries the cane. I wonder how many people notice it. I wonder how visible it is for others, how many recognize it for what it is.
I smile to think that it must stand out so well against the black of my gown.