I know, I know— every parent says his or her child’s graduation was memorable. Maybe the speeches were particularly outstanding, or some kid cart-wheeled across the stage, or the class joker wore only boxers under his gown. This week our daughter’s graduation at McGill Uni in Montreal was memorable for many, many reasons— but mostly for the emergency evacuation of over 2,000 of us from the giant tent!
Here we are BEFORE the excitement, all proud and calm…
I will try to keep my version of this event as unembellished as possible (not easy for a fiction writer!) The day started off incredibly hot and humid with storm warnings in the forecast, but honestly, they predicted storms for Charlotte’s wedding 3 weeks before, and we had nothing but sunshine, so I was feeling reasonably optimistic. Okay, we did take an umbrella. But as we all filed into the gigantic tent, it was beyond sweltering. They attempted to beat the heat with fans and some air conditioning coil thing, but I don’t think I have ever been so hot in my life. Six hundred Arts students plus families and friends squished shoulder-to shoulder like sardines in a can. And said can then placed in an oven. I can’t even imagine how the grads felt in their fur-edged long gowns and mortarboards.
The proceedings started beautifully with bagpipes and much ceremony, several humorous and moving speeches, and then the convocation began in earnest with the first fifteen or so graduates receiving their tap/cap/ degrees. I knew Charlotte was number three-hundred-and-something, and I was just contemplating which direction I should swoon should I faint from the lack of air, when the unthinkable happened.
Tent. Storm. Couple of thousand sweaty people. From our vantage point at the back left side of the structure, we heard a series of pops as several tent poles instantly ejected from their holes in the ground. I kid you not. A massive gust of wind lifted the side of the heavy canvas as if it was made of tissue, and we were face-to-face with the trees outside. Huge steel poles wobbled, massive suspended screens swung, and a feeling of dread knotted in my stomach.
Have you ever had that sensation of impending doom? I don’t ever remember a minute like this one in my entire life. In seconds, I knew there was a possibility of disaster. Thoughts of being smothered by canvas, crushed by a stampede of grad mothers’ high heels, smacked in the head by a pole, and hit by lightening all swirled around my mind in rapid fire. Nobody knew what to do. Would the storm blow over? Would the tent blow over? Panic etched on surrounding faces, and we decided to run for it, and a bunch of guys/ heroes held up the edge of the billowing tent while we scurried underneath to the open air.
I suggested, or maybe screamed to my brand new son-in-law to go and rescue Charlotte from the front of the tent, and then the heavens opened. Big time. A steady stream of us tried to find shelter, and eventually the whole tent was evacuated pronto and we followed the flow into a (thankfully solid) building. We all looked like drowned rats. Our pretty dresses, coiffed hair, and best suits all bedraggled. I knew Charlotte was in the very best hands, and was beyond relieved when she appeared with Ryan at the entrance of the building.
I can’t tell you how thankful I was in that moment. How I praised God from the bottom of my heart for not one injury. Yes, we were wet and displaced, but these vibrant young graduates were all safe and sound, still with hopes and dreams for their futures in tact.
So the rest of the ceremony was somewhat of a gong show! The fast ones among us filed into a lecture room, (which only held 600) and all rules, ceremony, and alphabetical orders were kiboshed. I felt desperately sorry for the administration as they attempted to at least get the grads gradded! We claimed fantastic seats, even though the grand stage walk ended up being two little steps and a squishy handshake with a photo. Charlotte was delighted to be in the company of her best friend of 4 Uni years, whom she would not have been with in the dilapidated tent, and at the end of the day, the best was made of an unfortunate calamity.
It certainly didn’t dampen our pride in our daughter’s achievements, and it was undoubtedly the most memorable graduation ceremony EVER for McGill University! We wouldn’t have missed it for the world…
Now that we have flown home and recovered from that adventure, we have our son’s high school graduation to attend. And I’m pleased to announce it is NOT in a tent…