Why I Didn't Walk at My College Graduation

I can walk.

Yesterday I did high intensity cardio and made the five-mile roundtrip to see fireworks on the lake near my home.

But I can’t tolerate UVA due to my solar urticaria.

And because of that — I couldn’t walk at my college graduation.

It was one of the harder decisions I’ve had to make due to my rare, chronic illness. I knew I physically could not handle the outdoor graduation ceremony under the May sun. I knew my body would be angry with me for days. I knew that I risked passing out.

But I also knew that it felt like I was being cheated somehow — not getting the full experience. I picked up my diploma cover from the president’s office. I got copies of the program and saw my name there alongside the words “BA in Economics and Business Administration, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa.”

The administration tried to make the ceremony as accessible as possible. They tried to work within my framework, but I knew it would be a long run for a short slide (and a nasty reaction).

My parents did everything they could to make my graduation feel special. We went out and ate an amazing dinner at a restaurant that could accommodate my food allergies. We took a bunch of pictures with the business school sign and one of the big sculptures near campus. We hiked my favorite trails, drank some good wine, and gazed at my diploma cover with all the awe and excitement we could muster. We even got my sister, her husband, and their beautiful newborn baby into the mix on FaceTime.

I had an amazing graduation experience, but because of a lack of accessibility, I couldn’t walk at my graduation.

And that almost cost me dearly.

See, I’d gone on two dates with an economics classmate of mine right before our graduation ceremony. First to get drinks. Then to get coffee.

He was going to ask me out to dinner. It was going to be our first real, official date at graduation. But he couldn’t find me. And he wrote off any potential for our relationship until much later. He sent me a letter and I responded. We started texting daily, and three months later we awkwardly declared our affections over Skype. We dated for five months, separated by 700 miles. Then, we finally moved to the same city. We’re still going strong past the 10-month mark now.

I’m thankful — so incredibly thankful — that our relationship came to be. But I can’t help but wonder how things would have played out if graduation hadn’t been held in the blazing sun.

author holding her degree in her hand

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