Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Three . . . Two . . . One . . . "Happy New Year's"?

The countdown clock that we have been watching for almost a year now as it marked the days left until graduation finally did explode! I created the "gadget" for our personalized Google homepage with the title "James Graduates from UAA!" We've watched it tick down all week and couldn't wait Sunday morning to boot up the computer and read the announcement. We both laughed so hard to see that the numbers had been replaced with the dubiously punctuated phrase: "Happy New Year's!" And so begins a new year and phase of our life.
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Final Project and Class Celebration

Friday night, May 2, James arrived home late with last minute changes and additions that his design team had taxed him with doing on the project for the presentation on Saturday morning. He was up until two. At six, the alarm went off and James and I dressed up and headed into Anchorage. At Seven thirty, his classmates assembled for a trial presentation before the real one in front of community members at nine. This was the first time that I had met most of his classmates. It was fun to put faces to the names James talked about every night at home. Everyone was excited, nervous, looking their best, and realizing the significance of this one last class event with these people that they had struggled through engineering school with. I felt honored to be there.

The presentation was very well done. Although James didn't present, his drafting skills were displayed in many slides. His class showed a very united professional front. I think that their heightened awareness of how much they had shared and how soon they would be apart made their presentation even better. Dad Smith, Jeremy, and Niki were there in the back row to watch.

During an awkward intermission, the students (with me as a tag along) trooped over to the engineering building so the engineering students could do some last things on the computer. The group told and retold stories of the bridge competition, their last minute frustrations with the project, and how Nick (one of the students) got held up by police the night before at his own house because his teenage son was spotted climbing on the roof by the neighbor! Afterwards, we met in the atrium (really a well-lit junction between two hallways and the stairs) for a ring ceremony (in front of the Coke machines) and the distribution of honor cords to the three students who must have not had a life for the past four years to earn them, the engineering-student-of-the-year award (they definitely picked the wrong person--James is TOTALLY the engineer of the year in my book), and a clock with "James Smith Civil Engineer" printed on it in big letters. I was so proud! We enjoyed a casual lunch buffet and snapped some last minute pictures of James with friends. I loved the closure we all felt with seeing the engineering class and several of their teachers all in one place one last time. After four years of working side by side, this was good-bye.

Sunday morning, we showed up to the Sullivan arena bright and early. The students signed in and collected plates of breakfast foods while milling around with classmates. James was number 57 out of 1000 in line to graduate. For an hour and a half, he and the other 999 people (give or take a few) practiced lining up, marching in, crossing the stage, receiving their diplomas, and getting their pictures taken (no kidding, the real photographer used an invisible camera to practice taking their picture).

We went home to let out Titus and eat leftovers (how celebratory) and then returned at two when the doors opened so we could go in and find a seat to wait for the ceremony to start at three. The parking lot was packed and lines stretched away from every entrance. Uh-oh. The possibility of finding seats for 9 in a place with a good view was looking slim. Thankfully, Dad and Mom Smith found six, but that meant three people had to go find seating elsewhere. It was nuts and hectic, but realizing that everyone around us was celebrating as much as we were and wanted equally good seats, we had to make allowances. When the Kuenning family arrived, Brady, Aspen, and Isaac volunteered to go to the nose-bleed section above us, although Brady still managed to capture some marvelously close up photos with his high powered camera.

The ceremony went just as practiced. The newly appointed chancellor, Fran Ulmer, gave a very nice speech on learning, teaching, and serving others. The valedictorian, a guy from James' speech class, ironically, gave one of the most canned graduation speeches I've ever heard (he even managed to mention Darfur). The sound system worked perfectly and a nice bit of sports-style cinematography allowed for multiple perspectives of the stage and graduating students to be broadcast on the jumbo tron. Then it was time for James to graduate. This time, it was not "Pomp and Circumstance" that made me cry, it was not the calling of his name (I did yell though, I didn't know I had it in me!), it was not the crossing of the stage, it was when James finally sat back down in his chair with a green UAA diploma holder in his hand that I burst into tears and cried noisy sobs for a few minutes while inwardly praising God for getting us through. Then we watched the other 943 people graduate.

After having his degree conferred upon him, turning his tassel, being sprinkled with confetti, and marching back out the door, James met us in the frantically busy parking lot where we all crowed around. We took pictures, hugged, congratulated, and laughed with enormous relief. Then we drove to Eagle River for dinner at Pizza man where Jeremy, Sheila, Niki, and Drake joined us for a delicious Italian dinner in a private room.
~ ~ ~

Praise God! He did it! James is a graduate. In four years, James never failed or was forced to repeat a class. While classmates bailed right and left for various reasons, James struggled through difficult classes with impossible teachers, most of the time while holding down a part time job at an engineering firm. He made friends, gained the respect of his teachers (and thus many in the local engineering community), and learned a passion for a new kind of work. Now my poetic, artistic, creative husband who earned extra money his first year at UAA by tutoring English students, could spout theorems and equations; calculate, diagram, and map anything I could ever need; and be a general engineering nerd at any opportunity. God has given him a good job, with men who respect him and can be respected for hard work and good ethics. Knowing that he did it for me--for us, so he could support me and our family, I am humbled and grateful for one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me.

Congratulations, James! I'm so proud of you.


  1. I am so happy for you, James! Congratulations! You're now a somebody! (From the movie, The Jerk).

    Definitely an awesome accomplishment in life.

    Miss you both!

  2. congrats to BOTH of you for making it through :) what an exciting new phase of life is ahead of you. hey, andrea, i wanted to know a little more about the book links and how i would go about ordering on amazon "through you." this is two fold. . one, so if i do buy books on your recommendation you get the credit, but i'm also looking for a way to do this for an organization i'm part of where they'd get a bit of a kickback if people bought on amazon or whatever. anyway, mctimbra@hotmail.com is my email address if you want to send a more detailed note. congrats again!

  3. Congratulations, James! What an amazing accomplishment!

  4. Congrats to you both! I believe you both deserve an extra round of applause. From experience, I know it is a combined effort when one in a marriage graduates! Way to go! We love you both and are happy for you. So what next?
    PS> I think it is so cute that you changed the "comments" link to "encouraging thoughts"! At first, I didn't know if you still allowed comments (I'm sure you posted about it earlier and I didn't read it), but I finally found it!


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