Even after seeing Nomzamo Mbatha graduate, I didn't think going to my ceremony was important - until my gogo told me what it meant to her

Those long nights are worth it when you graduate
Those long nights are worth it when you graduate

Growing up in a family of graduates can put some pressure on you to become a graduate as well. But it also feels like it's an achievement that might be taken for granted.

I mean literally, everyone I can think of in my family has has a degree of some sort - from my grandmother, my mother to my aunts and uncles and their wives and husbands.

If you ask them what they are currently doing, at least three of my family members are working towards another qualification.

Now imagine the number of graduation ceremonies they have attended. Imagine how many times they have sat in an audience and clapped, cheered, ululated for each other.

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You could even say that they have become veterans of the capping ceremony, so much so that it didn’t seem like my graduation would mean anything. It felt like it was a 'once you've been to one, you've been to all them' type of thing. 

But, when I registered at Rhodes University in 2015 I already had family members excitedly say that in three years they would be attending my graduation ceremony. I had distanced myself from the idea of going though.

So I started dropping hints about not wanting to go but those just went over everyone's heads. Eventually started actually saying that once I’m done at Rhodes [University] I don’t want to go back – hint missed again.

I imagined that if I said it with a serious face they would eventually understand that I was not excited about the ceremony part - but they didn't. My grandmother even started listing people who would need to be invited because they had played an important role in my education. I had no say but of course I value their contributions to my development and will forever be grateful to them.  

My parents divorced when I was eight years old...

She noted my mom, my aunt and her husband and that was it.

I need to mention that everyone from that list is from my mother’s side and here’s why.

My parents divorced when I was eight years old. I don’t know if the natural progression of divorce means you lose touch with your father’s side but that was the case for me. 

I would go years without visiting my paternal grandmother or my father. Things seemed to get better though when I turned sixteen because a certain curiosity to know my other side of the family was ignited in me. 

Needless to say, that fire burnt out real quick for a number of reasons I won't talk about here and I was back to being almost strangers with them. 

I’m glad though that my little brother continued a relationship with them anyway because that is how they knew that I had finished my degree. They called to congratulate me for the achievement. I thought that would be the end of it.

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When I received my graduation invitation my feelings of not wanting to attend the ceremony came back. I started calculating costs and, to me, it didn’t make sense that we had to dig deep into our pockets for my '15 seconds of fame'. But everyone else was excited. 

I soon found myself running around trying to book accommodation, helping organising transport and planning my outfit. 

And I was mess – I had the worst acne break out since I was teenager.

My mom kept reassuring me that everything would be okay but my anxiety kept pushing me to cancel everything so I could save everyone money.

When I thought things were finally coming together my little brother called me one day and said, “I don’t want to go to your graduation ceremony.” After asking him a number of times what his reasons were and him giving me vague answers, he finally admitted that he wanted my paternal grandmother to take his place. Then there was silence. 

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The next phone call was from my mother and she said she also wanted her to come.

The last phone call was from my grandmother and she made the same request.

I was reluctant because I hadn’t made an effort to visit her or call her in a little over three years and now I was going to ask her to spend her pension money on me. 

I eventually caved in and it was set. Both my grandmothers, aunts, my cousin and my mom would attend my graduation ceremony.

The big day finally came and it was a joy. After the ceremony I met with my family and my paternal grandmother gave me a hug. I thanked her for coming and then she thanked me.

I was confused. I said no, I’m thankful for you. She then thanked me again and asked, “If it wasn’t for you where would I see this?”

That is when I realised what she was thanking me for. My father is her only child so we are her only grandchildren. My father may be one of the smartest men I know but he never got the opportunity to finish his studies because of financial constraints. He started working and life got in the way of him going back to school. My grandmother never got the opportunity to go to school. 

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I realised that I was the first one on that side of the family to walk that stage. I started to value what the ceremony meant to everyone. Everyone who was there was proud for a reason. 

I hadn't known that there was a hope and responsibility bestowed on me from a distance and I’m glad that I didn’t know that at the time.

Because the pressure of being ‘the first’ would have been hard on me. It was already difficult enough to make sure I was like everyone else on my mother's side of the family. 

I live in two worlds. A world were my degree is a continuation of a tradition and a world where my degree is a first and there is hope for more. 

I'm glad that I got to honour both.

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