Jeffrey Graduates by
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The diploma brings a smile. 5/27/2012

Among the many things we liked about Brown for Jeffrey were the accommodations made for him. (Jeffrey transitioned to Vicki about eight years ago. The trans community does not want to be called by their previous name, called their “dead name”, so I know I am being disrespectful to my child when I refer to her in this story as “Jeffrey”, but she was still Jeffrey, with no hints of the coming transition, when this all took place. Her diploma says “Jeffrey”, so that is the name I will use here.)

Given the stress that came with workload, he was allowed to take a lighter course load. He just didn’t graduate in four years, but that was fine with us. Thus, he finished his degree requirements in December of 2011, as did about 100 of his peers. Brown staged a nice little ceremony for those students on December 3 with speakers and a reception. Each student was called up onstage and given a pin and certificate (though not a diploma, that would only be given out at Commencement, which only happens each May). Our immediate family came and enjoyed this ceremony.

12/3/11, we gather to celebrate actual graduation, though not diploma ceremony.

Since it was the end of a semester and the offices were closed for the break, we had to wait for his credentials to come through from the registrar. He had to provide his final transcript to Apple as part of his accepted job offer. Getting that was a bit of a scramble. We also went out and helped him buy his first car, which he got at a discount because he was a new college graduate. In the few weeks before he moved to California (his job was at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino; they paid all the moving expenses, including relocating that car), we worked on his driving skills. He was very nervous getting on and off highways, so that’s what we worked on.

But I still wanted to see him in cap and gown, with diploma. He had worked SO hard for all that he had accomplished. He graduated with a 3.7 average and had to take a course that demonstrated writing proficiency. That would have been close to impossible four years earlier, but now he did it with ease. He was even a TA for a favorite teacher. I wanted him (and us) to celebrate all of that with the full ceremony, beyond the little December event.

Brown’s Commencement is always Memorial Weekend and I begged Jeffrey to come home for the long weekend and participate. I thought that rite of passage was worth celebrating. He listened to me, the ticket was booked and our family gathered, including Dan’s aging, beloved mother, Gladys. We didn’t know at that time that it would be the last time she would travel to Boston. She learned that she had leukemia a few months later.

Jeffrey flew in, David came up from NYC where he was doing his PhD at Columbia. Knowing that Gladys could no longer walk long distances, I contacted my friend Andrea, a Brown Trustee, about how to navigate the day. She gave me instructions about where to park and to get there early to claim seats. There is a chapel service just for the graduating class early in the day (Providence is an hour drive from our home), then everyone, including alumni, in town for their reunions, line up for the processional, which takes a long time for everyone to enter the quad and be seated.

Lined up with friends before processional begins.

We got our seats saved and waited. I wandered a bit and saw Jack Nicholson, whose daughter was graduating, being led by a staff person, getting VIP treatment. He looked like he had just gotten out of bed. A large family group sat next to and in front of us, led by a friendly mother, with adult children and their spouses/significant others. She had bags of bagels and coffee to hand around while they waited. I chatted with the young man next to me. He looked so familiar. Much later I realized why. He was actor Joseph Cross (I checked the program and saw his sister was graduating), who later that year would appear in the movie Lincoln as the President’s young secretary John Hay. Ironically, the real John Hay, who went on to have a distinguished career beyond being Lincoln’s junior secretary, went to Brown and has a library bearing his name, housing his papers, on the quad where we were seated that day.

Eventually, everyone in cap and gown got in and was seated. The program commenced, speeches were given (which no remembers, universally true of commencements). Then we all found our graduates, took photos and continued to the diploma ceremonies for the individual programs. Jeffrey’s was Computer Science.

With family before going inside for granting of diploma.

As it happened, my friend Andrea had been a CompSci major at Brown and actually handed Jeffrey his diploma, which made it even more special. We’ve known each other for years on Martha’s Vineyard and discovered that she and Dan are step-cousins on the Pfau side of the family (Pfau was my father-in-law’s stepfather, but Andrea is actually related to Erv’s step-brother, which is a pleasant coincidence). We belong to the same club and see other throughout the summer.

Friend and Brown Trustee, Andrea Baum after giving Jeffrey his diploma. Very special!

We went to a little reception for the Computer Science department, then drove back to Newton. The day had been long, but hugely satisfying. We rested, changed our clothes, then took Jeffrey out to his favorite restaurant: the Capital Grille, to complete the celebration. I think he was happy that he came home to receive his diploma, wear a cap and gown, march with his friends and bask in his accomplishments. I know we were.

We celebrate at Capital Grille later; Jeffrey’s favorite.




Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy, as in many of your family stories your support of your children is so very apparent and admirable. Jeffrey’s graduation was obviously a wonderful occasion for all of you to celebrate.

    Here’s to more happy ceremonies!

  2. Jim Willis says:

    Betsy, as a veteran of many college commencements (a staple of my teaching career), I have to say this is the loveliest and most unique graduation story I’ve ever heard. Kudos to Brown for the accommodations they made for students like Jeffrey and for setting up delayed ceremonies for them. And kudos to you for encouraging Jeffrey to partake in the traditional ceremony later on. I know it was meaningful to him and the family.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    So much of your story is familiar as our older daughter graduated from Brown. Like you, we had to address the needs of her three grandparents who insisted they wanted to be there but had a tough time navigating the rain and walk to her department ceremony. Now that I am the grandparent, I get it. So special that they were there.

  4. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story about Jeffrey’s graduation, Betsy. Love that you were able to make special parking arrangements so that your MIL could attend. Also love your celebrity anecdotes about Jack Nicholson and Joseph Cross. Altogether a lovely ceremony!

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    It was a long haul but very successful, complete with cap and gown. Congratulations to all and best wishes for the future.

  6. Betsy, I like that you valued the ceremony of the formal Commencement, and made it into a memorable family day. I agree with that: give love and attention to the defining moments, don’t let them pass quietly into the background. There is a lot of beaming 😁 in your accompanying photos.
    In my life before vegetarianism entered into it Capital Grille was my go to favorite, and usually rose to the ceremonial occasion (especially the shrimp cocktail and the steak au poivre, and some memorable martinis).

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’m glad that you agree with me, Jon. One must celebrate and savor those special moments in life, no matter what. They go by quickly.

      I confess that I am not much of a meat eater myself. I once got salmon at the Capital Grille, but discovered that was not a great idea at a steak place, so enjoy my tenderloin once in while. Since Vicki no longer lives in the Boston area, I don’t think we’ve been back since that night of celebration.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    The things we do for love…I finished my MS in December, and had no desire at all to attend Commencement the following May. But my parents had their hearts set on it, so I dragged myself out, cap, gown and frown. You can see in the pix that I’d rather have been elsewhere!

    Glad Jeffrey was happy at his ceremony!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It seems she did (Jeffrey is now Vicki). She’s been increasingly vocal with us what she didn’t like that we made/encouraged her to do. But I think her happiness was genuine here. She enjoyed connecting with friends and did have a genuine sense of accomplishment. Sorry that you didn’t feel the same. Those in my life who got advanced degrees felt that same as you and did not do the cap and gown thing (except my brother when he got his PhD; my parents attended that ceremony, ironically also at Brown. I was already married and working full-time).

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