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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Epiphany .... !

... it happens.  Mysteries unfold at the most unexpected times, and almost always without fanfare.

Yesterday I drove in to the university's Zellerbach underground parking lot, and after presenting my VIP permit to the parking attendant, found myself in the maze of campus shops selling Cal T-shirts and student supplies with the unrelenting compulsion to follow "just anybody" dressed in a cap and gown.  Not smart.  That lead proved untrustworthy as I found myself surrounded by those heading for the Asian students ceremony on the second floor of the Student's Union!  So much for that system.  No GPS could save me now.

I then took the stairs back to the ground floor and approached 3 African American women (one of whom was "capped and gowned," with a friendly "... since you're obviously heading for the African American graduation commencement ceremony -- may I join you since I have no idea where I'm going?"  The eldest of the 3 said, " of course, but we're heading for the restrooms but if you'd like to join us you're surely welcome to!"

A few more false starts that led out of the Student Union building (shudda knowed that, right?) back across the Quad and into Zellerbach auditorium where confusion ended as I was guided through the theater (had no idea there would be such a large crowd anticipated), up to the stage and then backstage to the Green Room to wait with black-robed and colorfully "stoled" members of faculty with whom I would soon march onto the stage and take my seat in the front row for the ritual of commencement as the Fannie Lou Hamer honoree.

It was then that I met Dr. Charles Henry, Chair of the African American Studies Department (and who had recommended my being named to this great honor), and was reunited with Dr. Hardy Frye, an old and greatly honored scholar and friend from at least 40 years ago.  He was former head of Black Studies, now retired.  Hardy and I both worked for the Berkeley City administration when he served as Mayor Gus Newport's Chief of Staff, and I was city councilman Don Jelinek's aide.  It was great to see him again.  Life has taken this scholar to the top of his field, and when he told that he had supported my nomination for the Hamer Award, I immediately felt both the weight of the honor, and -- in an odd way -- validated in receiving it.

It was not so long ago that I might have been totally demoralized by the experience, but you know what?  I seem to be finally getting the hang of this "honoring" thing.  In this context, it made a kind of sense.
Never having attended college, and, despite my ten years as a faculty wife of a UC professor (Dr. William F. Soskin) -- and the resulting "non-traditional doctorate in psychology" that came with the years I participated as a "graduate student" in his research program, this was an alien setting for me.  It's always been as though I was the camel's nose that slipped under the tent in such rituals; never quite legitimate, and despite the illusion of knowing I tend to send out, I knew that it was unearned.  My status as a card-carrying member of the unwashed continues to guarantee my sense of humility -- that and being the mother of Dorian Reid who has accomplished so much with so little ... .

As the procession was about to end, someone came up behind me on the stage to whisper in my ear, "the young man at the end would like for you to drape his stole, if you would be willing."  What an honor to be invited to participate in this precious moment in someone's personal history.  What a time!

... but to get back to the epiphany ... but now I need to stop for a cup of tea and another tissue ...  more later.


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