Missed graduation may be a blessing

Commencement was Saturday at the University of Montana.

In the world of what ifs — a world where I don’t like spending much time — I would have been there, seeing my middle child in a cap and gown. I’d have been so proud, watching him file into Adams Center on the Missoula campus and graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

In the actual world, my Saturday wasn’t spent in Montana, but in Everett. I mowed my lawn. I saw my 10-year-old score a lacrosse goal.

Just one thing is exactly the same in real life as in that graduation scenario. I couldn’t be more proud of my 22-year-old son.

He started college at the University of Montana in the fall of 2005. Today, he’s at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. This quarter, he’s going on geology field trips and hosting a weekly midnight show on the campus radio station. He’ll have final exams in June, but he won’t graduate this spring.

In this season of celebrating extraordinary academic achievement, I congratulate all his high school friends from the class of 2005 who purposefully made it through college in four years.

I also salute my son and all his contemporaries who are still finding their way. I was happy to see, via Facebook, that one friend my son’s age has just been accepted to an arts college after working since high school at an Everett business.

Like lots of teens turned loose on a college campus right out of high school, my kid had some academic issues. He switched to a university closer to home, but later took time off to work and make music. For six months, he lived in Seattle and worked at a grocery store.

His band toured Europe and the East Coast. He had an offer to join a California band. He turned it down, choosing instead to stay in college in Ellensburg.

That’s where he is today, my artsy kid, at CWU taking both a lab science and math. His major? Right now, it’s English — like his mom’s. Although I’m often tempted to quip, “Good luck with that,” I also know he has recession-proof skills I never had. If you heard him play guitar, you wouldn’t disagree.

He’ll lead an interesting life, that much I know. And each year, he’s closer to being the educated man I hoped to foster when I first moved him into a Montana dorm room in 2005. I’m convinced I will see his graduation day, but I’m not yet asking when.

I also think he has learned more in the past four years than some straight-arrow students who never missed a class. And honestly, with the job market in sad shape, I’m happy he’s in school. He calls it his “victory lap.”

Through the magic of technology, and the Missoulian newspaper’s Web site, I listened to the commencement speech delivered Saturday at the University of Montana by Craig Barrett. He’s the chairman of the board of Intel Corp., the high-tech company responsible for inventing the microprocessors found in most personal computers.

In an excerpt from the graduation speech, part of a video presentation on www.missoulian.com, Barrett joked about Chinese fortune cookies being “the ultimate source of wisdom.” He shared three fortunes that ring true, no matter your age or education.

“The first fortune cookie: The world will always accept talent with open arms. What it really means is, education is the key that opens the doors to the future,” Barrett told Montana graduates.

He offered two more sayings that might be found in fortune cookies: “You cannot win unless you choose to compete,” Barrett said.

And this, the best one: “A small deed done is better than a great deed planned.”

My son missed that graduation speech. That’s OK. He didn’t give up. He’s working on it.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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