Dec 282014

My family values education highly, so it was with great joy that we gathered last weekend to celebrate my nephew’s graduation from the university on the banks of the Wabash, far away.

Both of his parents, his grandfathers, and his great-grandfather had a connection to Purdue University. In 1919, my maternal grandfather studied agriculture for one year. My grandfather gave $100 for the building of the Purdue Memorial Union (his name is still on a plaque there today.) His father, so upset by his son’s apparent frivolity, told him he need not come back for his sophomore year. While he completed the short course several years later, he always identified with and supported the university.

The first of his family to attend college, my father was valedictorian of his 11-person class at Camden High School. Dad graduated in education in 1953 and returned to Purdue several years later to complete his master’s degree. My brother graduated in 1982 and lived in the same fraternity where my father had been a charter member.

Sunday we celebrated my nephew’s achievement as a graduate of the difficult and academically rigorous mechanical engineering program. All of my life I’ve been in the middle of this black and gold Boilermaker hoopla. From our rabid sports fans to proud promoters of academic research, the men in my family revere their beloved alma mater.

As we celebrated the graduation and anticipated a wonderful future for our nephew, I could not help think of the one person who would have celebrated this day more than anyone. The person with the most Purdue ties is someone who went to the rival university in Bloomington. (Bloomington is how my family members refer to Indiana University.)

My late mother, daughter of a Purdue student, wife, sister, mother, and grandmother of a graduate, graduated from Indiana University in education in 1955. How fortunate my brother and I were to be raised by parents who valued learning and encouraged us to also pursue higher education. During their more than fifty-year marriage, my parents bickered about every attribute of their universities. Their car had bumper stickers from both schools, and the flagpole out front sported the flag of the Boilers or the Hoosiers, depending on who had the latest victory.

Because my father was and is still so involved with Purdue, my mother bit her lip for decades and graciously attended Purdue events.

For the record, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t care about college sports, and I attended neither school. Purdue University is a world-class institution, as is Indiana University. Both have contributed in different ways to our state, our nation, and our world. My mother took all the ribbing and still managed to sing “Hail, Purdue.”

Mom’s absence on Sunday was palpable. Mom would have remembered the picture of her dapper father with his livestock judging trophy and the gold Purdue key hanging out his suit pocket. She would have laughed at the picture of her cigar-smoking husband in his yellow fraternity cords, with his friends in front of the house. Sitting in the elegant Elliot Hall of Music would have reminded her of how she celebrated my father’s graduation from his master’s degree in the same space when she was newly married and lived in Ross-Ade apartments. She would have beamed with pride to see her Purdue graduate son’s handsome six-foot-something son walk down the same aisle in his black gown with the gold sash.

Mom would have cheered the loudest because love is greater than any school rivalry. Hail, Purdue.

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