Watching graduation videos from my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, brought back memories. The more recent experience was three years ago, when I felt honored to be a keynote speaker at a special dinner recognizing the James H. Albertson award recipients. I had been one of 14 to receive that honor when I graduated and it was especially meaningful.

Basically, I’m a farmgirl from WI who worked hard and doors opened. Being invited back for a dignified, formal graduation weekend, full of tradition and ceremony reminded me of how different my own graduation had been.

Diane is the fourth person from the right in the photo above. She led the pinning ceremony.

My freshman year I was almost expelled from college for inviting boys up to our floor to have a piece of my friend’s birthday cake. I’m glad to say the Dean of Students gave us all a second chance. So appreciative!

Being part of the “baby boom,” all the dorms were full when I enrolled, so the “overflow,” 50 of us girls, lived in the top floor of a hotel a mile from campus. In the winter, we hitchhiked to classes. The girl who lived on my right was very smart and the girl who lived on my left was very social, but both dropped out after our freshman year. Fortunately, a couple teachers saw potential and encouraged me. Thank goodness!

After being in the workforce for a while, I wanted to further my opportunities and started taking business classes. I took one and then another and that led to enrolling in an MBA program.

After 7 ½ “short” years, I earned my MBA. It was a struggle. At the commencement ceremony, beach balls were tossed. Champaign bottles were popping and people were milling around. Pomp and circumstance it was not, but it was fun.

Then when we got up to exit, it hit me. All the times I had said, no, I can’t do this because I have to study. No, I can’t do that because I have a test. I started not just crying but sobbing. I have no idea where that came from, but it must have built up over the years. I felt the enormity of what I’d accomplished.

Knowing that an entire country of our graduates are not able to celebrate with abandon saddens me. This will be a time that they tell their children and grandchildren about. However, living through it isn’t easy and will always mark a passage in their lives.

I hope if you have a relative or friend graduating this year, you’ll make a special effort to reach out and congratulate them. Give them, at least a virtual pat on the back, for a job well done! We can toss the beach balls and pop the Champaign later!

About the author: Diane Pleuss is a proud UWSP alum and senior franchise consultant with FranChoice. She is also a Distinguished Toastmaster and past District Director.