Most people visiting our home don’t notice it, not that I’m surprised. I myself am inclined to disregard these unless they are on a wall in a doctor’s office, behind a surgeon discussing how he is going to slice me open. Then I check to be sure the document didn’t come from the Caribbean, embossed with a picture of Bob Marley. I’m talking about college diplomas.
I got to thinking about mine because a friend recently blogged that, while attending his graduation ceremony, he was surprised to receive an empty folder. His diploma had yet to be printed. He was unaware that colleges and universities pull this stunt as a precaution against students flunking their senior finals. My friend passed his finals with flying colors, and I hope he doesn’t have to wait long to receive his diploma. I waited thirty years for mine.
I graduated from UCLA on June 29, 1974. I didn’t attend my graduation ceremony because another event took precedence over my graduation; this was the day Mrs. Chatterbox and I were married, the only date available at the golf club where Mrs. C’s folks were members and where they wanted to hold our reception. Since UCLA was hundreds of miles south of San Mateo where we were to wed, and since I couldn’t be in two places at the same time, I was a no-show at my graduation.
To be honest, I never felt like I passed up much. Had I attended, I would have stood with thousands of others, waved my mortarboard cap for a minute or two and sat down. We graduates weren’t even going to be permitted to stroll across a stage. Besides, I was an art major and I figured (correctly as it turned out) that diplomas didn’t matter. Portfolios containing high quality art were all that galleries or advertising agencies cared about.
The decades came and went without me thinking much about my diploma, but after years of marriage the well of gift-giving ideas often runs dry. Mrs. C, who is one of the most generous people on Earth, was struggling to find a gift for my fiftieth birthday. Then an idea popped into her head.
So there I was on my fiftieth birthday, imagining myself as a tree and thinking about all those rings that would be visible if someone chopped me down, when my wife placed a package on my lap. It was shaped like artwork but she never bought me art, claiming it would be like bringing coals to Newcastle. I was baffled. I tore off the wrapping paper. In my hands, beautifully framed—my college diploma.
It was one of the few times in my life when I was speechless. “You ordered a copy of my diploma?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “That’s your actual diploma. I called UCLA about having a copy made and they said it wasn’t necessary. They had all unclaimed diplomas from the time the University opened in 1882. They were happy to mail me your diploma, and they didn’t even charge me anything.”
I studied the document carefully, noticing Governor Ronald Reagan’s signature on it, probably just a stamp but still cool. In beautiful calligraphy it proclaimed my bachelor’s degree in Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts. I overlooked the fact that over the years I’d lied shamelessly about my major to suit my purposes. If I was in a hot and heavy philosophical discussion with someone I’d fib and claim Philosophy was my college major. The same with Politics or History. Now it would be hard to lie about my major with this diploma hanging on the wall for all to see.
Just before beginning this post I was reading an article on Yahoo that listed the five most worthless college degrees. First and foremost was any degree having to do with Fine Arts. This might be the first time in my life I’ve figured at the top of any list. But worthless? Hardly. I may not have thought much of my diploma when I graduated, but thirty years later it hangs on my wall as a testament to my wife’s love and devotion.
Besides, the last time I was in the Caribbean I bought a few fake diplomas for twenty bucks. They look cheesy, having been printed in a rusty van by a Bob Marley look-a-like, but I’ve won a few arguments with them.