“You’re supposed to wear a button-down shirt. The loop that holds this hood on is supposed to hook over a button.”
Bullshit. I was graduating with my PhD. I never once considered a button-down shirt. My outfit – a simple elegant black sheath dress, clingy yet forgiving, complementary yet comfortable – had long been chosen.
The shoes were another question.
The same logic that guided me through four years of reading and writing and self-guided research suggested I go for the low sensible flats, suitable for lots of walking with no chance of mishap. Paired with the elegant black sheath, they seemed the obvious choice. Serviceable. Reserved. Academic.
Except. When have I ever been that sensible? Or reserved? For me, the woman who instituted Red Shoe Night, the queen of the dress up box who accidentally grew up. For a long day at work, serviceable is perfect. For the last graduation in which I will ever participate as a graduate? The very idea hurt my soul.
The fabulous black patent leather stilettos, five inches off the ground, looked decidedly better with the elegant little black dress. Sassy and stunning and a little bit silly, the stilettos captured the essence of my identity. I decided I could wear nothing else.
Until I remembered Jennifer Lawrence.
The very cool and down-to-earth star of The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook (for which she won an Oscar) notably tripped walking up the steps of the stage to receive her Academy Award. I have famously fallen in heels before. So, the fabulous black stilettos presented a conundrum. I called upon a higher power.
“Babe, I love you and the last thing I want to see is you graduating in low sensible flats but seriously, if you fall, that will be the only thing you remember from the day.” Wise words from my very best bestie Cindy echoed through the phone. I knew she would tell me what I needed to hear, whether I liked it or not. “I mean, honestly, you don’t want people saying ‘Jaysus, who gave this donkey a PhD?’ I know what the fabulous heels mean to you, so if you can promise me you won’t fall, wear them. Otherwise…”
Bowing to better judgment, graduation morning saw flats on my feet, heels in my bag. I would change later, make an entrance for lunch. Outside the auditorium, a volunteer helped me assemble my regalia: ridiculous hat, heavy borrowed gown, fussy silly hood. “If you wore a button-down shirt, this loop would hook over a button…”
Because this whole get-up was designed for straight, white, middle class men, I thought to myself, the traditional standard bearers of the PhD, in their slacks and ties and button-down shirts.
I broke into the auditorium, confirmed the presence of handrails on every stair I would have to climb, unobstructed carpeting on every strip of floor I would have to walk. I sent Cindy I silent promise that I would be careful and slipped into the fabulous heels…