NICEVILLE—The Northwest Florida State College parking lot is swarmed with cars. Families are hurrying toward the gymnasium, dressed in their Sunday best.
I pass a man wearing denim. There are grease smudges on his jeans. Holes in his work shirt.
“I’m gonna see my son graduate,” he tells me, lighting a cigarette. “I can hardly believe it.”
Tha man’s name is Danny, he drove here from DeFuniak Springs to see his boy walk across a stage to receive a degree.
“My son’s the pride of our family,” he says. “I love that boy so much.”
Inside the arena is a huge crowd. In the center of the basketball court are hundreds of students in black gowns and square caps. Their faces, happy. Their smiles, blinding.
I stand in the nosebleeds beside Danny. He uses his phone to capture this moment.
Danny tells me his bossman didn’t want him leaving work today. But Danny said, “Damn that, I’m gonna see my boy walk, sir, and if you don’t like it, that’s
too bad. I’ll be back after lunch.”
When we sing the national anthem, Danny removes his cap and holds it over his heart. He sings louder than anyone.
Then he waves at his son. But his son doesn’t see him.
“There he is,” Danny says, pointing. “See him?”
“I see him,” I say.
When I first attended this school, it was called Okaloosa Walton College. It was about the size of an area rug back then.
This was the only place that would take an adult dropout like me. And it is the only alma mater I have ever known.
It’s funny. I was afraid to enroll here as an adult. I was worried everyone would think I was stupid. I was embarrassed on my first day of class. But I got over it. It took me less than…