Well, we’ve reached the end of another mundanely spectacular semester at the University of West Florida.
Next Saturday, the Pensacola Bay Center will be full of proud family members from all over the country – heck, the world, even – to celebrate the monumental achievements of bright, hard-working and unbelievably exhausted college students.
To those lucky students graduating next weekend, I wish all of the new graduates much luck in their future endeavors, wherever they may take them.
I also hope new graduates enjoy the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment with people who care to see them succeed.
Whether these people are parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, fellow graduates, corduroy jacket-wearing professors, Internet-approved kittens or graveyard shift waitresses from Waffle House, they care about us.
Based on my own experience as a college graduate, it is impossible to contextualize the appropriate level of gratitude one can pay to these people. I wrote a few letters and bought a few beers, but even as a relentlessly broke college student, no product of monetary value or postmarked message of appreciation could truly encapsulate just how much I truly appreciate the people who got me where I am today.
Of course, we’re not just celebrating the graduation of UWF students during the month of December. Many people will be celebrating a variety of holidays over the next few weeks, hopefully surrounded by family, friends and loved ones.
I, being raised in a Baptist household, will be celebrating Christmas with my family here in Pensacola.
While I appreciate all opportunities to spend time with my family, I will admit that this Christmas will be particularly bittersweet.
This will be the first Christmas my family will celebrate without my grandmother, Jerri. She passed away earlier this year as a result of a disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous first baseman for the New York Yankees who was diagnosed in 1939, ALS is a serious neurological disorder that occurs one to three times for every 100,000 people. According to the Mayo Clinic, in 90 to 95 percent of diagnosed cases, doctors have no concrete knowledge as to why ALS occurs, with the other five to 10 percent of cases attributed to inheritance.
It was around this time last year that my grandmother, and my family, began to realize the severity of her condition. In response to these new challenges, my family bonded together and dedicated themselves to making my grandmother feel as loved and comfortable as possible.
My mother, aunt and grandfather formed a three-headed creature of goodwill, love and therapy. They fed her, bathed her, dressed her in her favorite clothes and sat at her bedside until the very end.
However, on Christmas Day of 2011, my family set the precedence for a display of love that I am fairly certain will never be usurped in my lifetime.
My grandfather’s name is Jerry, as well.
Yes, my grandparents share the same first name.
No, I’ve never cracked a joke about this, because my grandfather is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and while he is close to half my size, he could easily use that as an excuse to beat my ass twice as hard.
Anyways, on Christmas Day of 2011, we congregated at the home of my grandparents for our annual celebration of the birth of our Lord. We celebrated this year like many years before it – with gluttonously abundant amounts of food and commercial goods.
I can’t remember many of the gifts I received for Christmas last year besides a pair of corduroy pants. I certainly didn’t receive the best present. That honor went to my grandmother.
The floor of the living room is covered in shards of festive wrapping paper and protective plastic shrink-wrap following an intense session of opening Christmas presents.
As things begin to normalize, my grandfather stands beside my grandmother and gets the attention of everyone in the room.
My grandfather begins to talk about the nearly 50 years he and my grandmother have spent together in marriage, and how lucky he has been, and currently is, to be married to her.
My grandfather begins to weep, and in tow, so does every other human being in the room, myself included.
My grandfather reaches into his pocket and pulls a small box out of his pocket. He opens the box to reveal an incessantly beautiful diamond ring.
My grandfather drops to one knee and asks my grandmother to marry him, again, to which she replies, “Yes.”
Before we can congratulate the happy couple, my grandfather makes another announcement.
A few days earlier, my aunt, Jennifer, became ordained as a minister legally obliged to perform marriage ceremonies.
Right then and there, my grandparents exchanged wedding vows for the second time. My father and I joked that my grandfather did this on purpose to ensure my grandmother wouldn’t have time to second-guess her decision, but we all knew that was something that would never happen in a million years.
My grandparents are the personification of serendipitous destiny. For goodness’ sake, they have the same first name!
There will be many moments this holiday season when my family looks through old photo albums or watches old home videos and can’t help but think of how sweeter these moments would be if Grandma were still with us.
However, I know I will find solace in the fact that December 25 will forever be known as the anniversary of the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
This Christmas, I will not just be celebrating with my family. I will be celebrating with my heroes.
I hope you enjoy the holiday season, loyal reader.