University of Texas at Austin, alma mater to my daughter, my father, and to me!

Anna graduated from UT Austin last Saturday, 21 May, more than 30 years after her mother and more than 60 years after her grandfather. It was a hot Austin day, hot enough so you could smell the baking vegetation, but not hot enough for the poison ivy to vaporize. She had the new UT Ph.D. robe which I can only think was not designed with women in mind because it puts a shiny brass button and tower over each breast. It also has a handy pocket, and on the same side a slit so you can get to your right pants pocket. They might have put the pocket on the left, instead of right by the slit, so you don’t drop things to the floor through the slit while trying to reach the robe pocket. After all, how many robed graduates are entirely sober? But pocket and slit are both improvements, and the muted colors are nicer than the brash orange chevrons on black that they introduced in 1983 for the centennial. Just think, both were before my time, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t go to graduation.

The ceremony honors years of hard work for the 400 or so Ph.D. recipients that came to walk across the stage in their special ceremony, about half of all receiving the degree here. All around us in other buildings were ceremonies for other levels, with other robes, the undergraduates walking across no stage.

Studying for a degree can be a solitary time. It can involve teamwork, and surely needs friends of all kinds. But graduation is family time. We came to celebrate Anna’s accomplishments as a family. All around us were others with their families more than with their friends. The families look more variable than the students, and tell more of the many roots that brought students here than could be discerned from the identically robed graduates.

I loved UT as a grad student. Often I could hardly believe I was lucky enough to leave the chilly rain of Ann Arbor for a great university in the blazing Texas sun. I suppose if ever there is a place I should feel at home that isn’t Houston, it would be Austin (and Michigan, but that’s another story). But it has been so long and so much of the landscape has changed, developed. Also, I never could feel that these were all my people, not the ones making the secret UT hand sign as they pumped them to their song, The Eyes of Texas are upon you…

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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