My Two Cents: Indiana's 2020 Graduates Can Still Walk the Walk

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There is a long list of things that the Class of 2020 didn't get to do on their way out the door, be it at Indiana or their high school on their way to IU.

For many basketball players, they didn't get to finish their seasons, having it yanked right out from under their collective feet at the most exciting time of the year, the postseason.

For many spring sports athletes, they practically didn't get to have a season at all. Oh, a little taste maybe, but that might have been even worse. 

Graduation ceremonies came and went this weekend, and with no mass celebration, no packed seats at Assembly Hall or beyond. Instead, guys put on a clean shirt for the pictures, and the young women slipped on a nice dress and some cute shoes. They smiled once or twice for pictures back at home ... and then it was over.

Graduating from college is a big deal. And here's my point to the Class of 2020. It's the GRADUATING that matters, not the walk down the aisle. You've done it! Mission accomplished.

Now, life goes on.

Going through a ceremony doesn't mean anything compared to the job well done in the classrooms and beyond for the past four years or so. Sure, the moments of commencement are nice, but it's just a moment. 

Being an alum, that gets to be forever.

Indiana basketball player De'Ron Davis was told by relatives that he was the first man in his family to ever graduate from college. That means something. That's an accomplishment that basketball helped provide for him.

Being first, that matters. It also sets a trend.

Here's a personal note that helps tell that story a little better. I didn't walk for my graduation, either. It didn't bother me one bit – I'll get to that in a moment — but it bothered my mom A LOT. She wanted to see me in cap and gown in Bloomington, and graduating in a procession with the masses.

And why was that so important to her? Because I was the first.

My parents didn't go to college, though my mom was certainly smart enough to go. Her parents didn't go, nor did my dad's folks, and nor did any of their parents.

I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, and my mom was very proud of that. 

And after that, both of my brothers graduated, including one more from Indiana, a clean three-for-three sweep to the diploma aisle. The three of us — with help from great wives, of course — gave my mom 11 grandchildren, and they are all college graduates too, except for the last one, who's a year away from being finished at the University of Michigan. 

(Yes, we have allowed Michigan graduates in our family. Want something even more shocking? I have Purdue and Kentucky graduates, too. And I still love my nephew and niece dearly.)

There are very few things that make my mom more proud than knowing all three of her sons were successful college graduates, and now all 11 grandchildren were doing the same, or about to.

Graduating, and taking it from there, is what really matters. I'm 61 years old and I still say that my four years in Bloomington as a student back in the Stone Age were the best four years of my life. They were, but what they did was set the stage for all that followed, the good and the bad, the highs and the lows.

One thing I've always said about my Indiana University education is that I left PREPARED. There was never a doubt about that.

Here's my graduation ceremony story. Long story short, after the very first day of classes my freshman year in the fall of 1976, I went to play basketball at the HPER building. Back then, and you old-timers will remember this, the 10 courts were all this rubber tartan surface, not the beautiful wood floors like they have now.

And you old-timers will also remember how sticky that stuff was on hot August days. It was like glue, especially on a 90-degree days with no air conditioning inside that iconic and beautiful building. 

Anyway, I went up to catch a pass on a fast break and came down quickly. My shoe grabbed the floor but my ankle decided to keep on rolling. I tore ligaments in my ankle so bad that I spent two nights in the hospital, with ice bags getting switched constantly and big long needles drawing all sorts of blood out of the swollen area.

I was something of a math whiz in high school and thought it was wise, as a journalism major, to take a five-hour Calculus course that first semester to get that requirement out of the way. I missed the next four days, and was woefully behind. My very young teacher — who was practically my age, a Doogie Howser wanna-be (look it up) — had no sympathy when I walked into the class on crutches the following Monday. She had no interest in helping me catch up, and I was a bit overwhelmed. So I dropped the class and figured I would just make up the hours down the road.

I never did. I was too busy covering soccer and basketball and being sports editor and a columnist at the Indiana Daily Student to ever overload myself with class work. And when I left for a summer internship at the St. Petersburg Times in the summer of 1980 with only 12 total hours still to go, I figured I would just come back in the fall and graduate then.

Well, it never happened.

Six weeks into my internship, they offered me a job. Hell yeah, I said. I zipped back to Bloomington and took two summer intensive session courses in three weeks and grabbed my few belongings and headed back to Florida. I took the last two courses by correspondence, but they were not high priority for me. I was working, and that came first. About a year later, I finally finished. I officially became a member of the Class of 1982, if they'd have me.

One day on my way out of my house in Clearwater, Fla., to cover a high school basketball game, I grabbed my mail out of the mailbox. Inside an envelope was my IU diploma. I tossed it in the back seat and covered my game.

Did the same thing the next night. It was probably too weeks before I took it in the house and probably two more months before I got a nice frame and hung it on my bedroom wall. I have no idea where it is now.

The point being, not walking down the aisle for graduation didn't bother me one bit. It's the accomplishment that matters, not the celebration. It's like a birthday party with no cake. It's still a birthday!

I love seeing Devonte Green all excited about what comes next for him.

I love seeing De'Ron Davis being proud of his accomplishment, and all he wants to do next in his life.

I even love seeing Fred Glass, Indiana's outgoing athletic director, feeling like he's a part of this Class of 2020 himself since he's leaving in a few weeks. That's all part of it. We put in the work, and then life goes on.

Glass, IU Class of 1981, said "we're kind of going out together and it stinks in a way that we're not going through the commencement that we planned. Remember, you're Hoosiers for life and you're always welcome to come back.

"You'll never forget the year 2020, not only because of your graduation but because of the circumstances that led to this. Be proud of the fact that you fought through trying times to earn your degree. Enjoy the fruits of your labor, and go IU.''

There will be a virtual graduation ceremony on Friday, and that will have to do. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams will be the keynote speaker, and he will be fantastic. He is the nation’s public health authority and a leader in the response to COVID-19, and is an Indiana University School of Medicine graduate and former faculty member. 

 It's OK, it really is. It's a day on the journey.

Just a day, and then another and another for all of you, a bright and diverse and ready-for-anything graduating class of 2020, the bicentennial class that will always have great stories to tell about the spring of 2020 in Bloomington.

Congratulations, and welcome to one of my favorite clubs ... as alumni of Indiana University. Now go out and make us all proud.

Indiana, we're all for you.

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