Capping off quite an adventure with another cap and gown

The beginning of the end.

That was what I thought when I received my packet for ordering my cap and gown for the completion of my doctoral studies.

A number of emotions passed through me: excitement, fear, anxiety and shock at the cost. As I began to think about it, though, a new realization struck me: This is nothing new; all of these experiences have come before. This isn’t my first graduation, but it will be my last.

As I’ve enjoyed my last days of the Christmas break, I’ve thought a lot about how to approach my final semester as a graduate student. It’s a strangely different thought.

As a senior in high school, the final months after break are filled with final events and send-offs. As an undergraduate in college, the final semester is filled with final courses and preparation for the chosen career. As a graduate student, it’s an odd feeling: The send-off comes in terms of a public defense.

It’s the end of a sort of bubble and an entrance into an unknown future. Instead of thinking about the unknown, I’ve decided to leave that in God’s hands. My great-grandmother used to tell me that God has a funny sense of humor. I really believe that, and – as with all humor – the timing is crucial.

It’s been seven years since I moved to St. Louis. In 2011, the city experienced one of its most brutal winters in quite some time. It was my first winter; my first experience in snow and ice.

I was excited to see the snow gently falling and the quiet enveloping the area. I didn’t think about the consequences of snow building up. And, as I learned, the snow isn’t always the problem; it’s the ice.

Ice can snap power lines and tree branches. It makes travel on the roads dangerous. Those combinations lead to disaster: If help cannot arrive, what happens?

People in the weather industry in St. Louis often cry wolf, as I’ve learned, when it comes to winter weather. In our first winter, I remember people telling me that the storm must be a major concern because the university canceled classes. And it was.

The Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011 created a state of emergency, shutting down interstates and forcing closures for three days. I was completely unprepared: no shovel, no ice scraper, no salt. I remember calling a friend because I had no idea how to dig my car out of the snow. It was trial by fire.

And here it goes again. Winter Storm Jupiter is an expansive storm set to travel across the Midwest and the Plains, bringing snow, ice and sleet in its wake. Another return. Another crippling ice storm, more forced closures.

But this time I’m prepared. As I read through the packet of information on the choices that I have when ordering my cap and gown, there was a sense of the familiar but also a feeling of newness. This cap and gown will be the one that I wear for the rest of my life at graduations for my students – one day.

All of these returns – these cycles, that feeling of slight déjà vu – make us more aware of what, perhaps, we didn’t know the first time we experienced it. That’s the beauty of repetition: it’s a chance to learn from the past.

Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at  

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