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Kayla Bechman in graduation cap blowing glitter off her hand Tom J. Bechman
ONE-OF-A-KIND: My daughter Kayla Bechman will only graduate with a B.S. from Purdue once, so she made her graduation ceremony special to her.

Class of ’20 graduates made their own special memories

No one intended their graduations to be what they were this year, but students are making the best of it.

Many people worry about today’s younger generation. Those graduating from high school and college this year primarily know a world of computers, social media and instant gratification. Will they make it when reality sets in and life doesn’t go their way?

Well, based on what I’ve seen, they’re going to be just fine. Life just delivered one of the biggest doses of reality of the modern era in the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors finished the last couple of months of their scholastic careers online, physically separated from friends and teachers or professors. Yet many are finding ways to chart a course though the chaos.

My wife, Carla, and I were looking forward to one more graduation ceremony at Purdue University. Our oldest three children, Allison, Ashley and Daniel, all went through the pomp and circumstance. Ag graduates and their parents were usually invited to a special reception in the upper levels of Ross-Ade Stadium. When Daniel graduated, as a Purdue Reamer and pilot of the Boilermaker Special, rides on that special train were part of the day.

Life upside down

Our youngest, Kayla, completed coursework a year ago. However, she returned for a year’s internship on her path to becoming a registered dietitian. So, her turn to walk across the stage of Purdue’s Hall of Music was this year.

It didn’t happen. By now, most of you have lived long enough to know you can handle disappointment one of two ways. You can sulk and become bitter, sometimes never letting it go. Or you can take a sour lemon and make sweet lemonade. Kayla made lemonade.

Truthfully, she made a cake — her own graduation cake. “One thing about making your own graduation cake, you can’t complain to anyone if it doesn’t turn out right,” Kayla quipped. That’s our girl! It turned out perfect, in looks and taste.

At a bit after 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 16, the appointed time for graduation, Kayla came down the stairway at Daniel and wife Katie’s house to the graduation march, dressed in her cap and gown. Daniel cued the TV, and Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue, appeared, giving a graduation address via tape. All of Kayla’s immediate family were gathered around. Someone joked, “Wow, it looks like Mitch is going to step right out of the TV to give her the diploma!”

He didn’t, of course, but the diploma was there, and her name not only appeared on screen, but was read out loud. When it was time to “move the tassel” to signify she was an official graduate, she followed along as Mitch led. We all cheered. Even the youngest set, ages 3 to 10, cheered from the basement.

There was smoked pork shoulder and brisket to die for, with all the fixings. Everyone got their picture snapped with the new graduate.

Was it the same as going through graduation on campus? No. Will Kayla always remember it? Yes. And so will we. It was her day. She chose to smile and make it special, and it was special indeed.

This year’s graduates will be just fine. They’re already battle-tested. There will be more battles, but now there’s no doubt they will be ready.

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