A Madison Magazine Reader’s Memories Become 
a Published Memoir
Mar 22, 2013
09:07 AM
From Memory to Memoir

My Belated Graduation

My Belated Graduation

In September 2012 Madison Magazine and I teamed up to offer a reader the chance to see his or her life story become a book. We received so many great entries that we are sharing a few with readers of this blog. This is the third of three entries submitted by April Hoffman, receiver of the third place award. Enjoy April’s writing!

– Sarah White

Would I feel intimidated living in a college town? My only concern about moving to Madison in 1974 was that I lacked a college degree. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I had doggedly taken courses everywhere John and our young family had lived. By now I’d given up hope of ever graduating.

Then I read about an art show at Edgewood College. Unfamiliar with Edgewood but interested in art, I strapped two-year-old Langston into his bike seat and pedaled over. A woman wearing street clothes was studying the weeds in the campus lawn. Being friendly and having just learned that the word “dandelion” was French for “lion’s tooth,” I strode over to share my new information.

I learned that the woman was a Dominican nun who taught there. Listening to my regrets about never finishing college, she suggested I enroll at Edgewood. The college had recently decided to accept older, “returning” students. Frustrated by my many failed attempts, I laughed. The kind sister kept talking. When she promised free babysitting for Langston during my classes, I agreed to try.

My entire family supported my goal. At a low point while ordering a transcript from yet one more college, five-year-old Suzanne asked why I was crying. “Because I’ll never get my diploma,” I said. “What is a diploma?” She asked. “A piece of paper with fancy writing on it,” I said. Beaming, she said, “Don’t cry, Mommy. I can make you one!”

Enrolled at last, and with Langston in tow, I began my coursework. While I carried notebooks and pens to class, Langston toted his little suitcase of Matchbox cars. When occasionally his student babysitter didn’t materialize, my encouraging professors invited him to sit in the back of the classroom, where he quietly pushed his fleet of cars across a desktop.

Three years later graduation day finally approached. I had to choose the person who had been my biggest support during college to accompany me during the baccalaureate ceremony. I knew who that person was. At the dinner table that night I announced that Langston, now five, would walk down the aisle with me.

His big sister, Suzanne, now in grade schooler, said, “But, Mom, if I hadn’t been in school, I’d have gone to class with you, too.” I thought about this. “I’ll ask if two people can accompany me,” I said. The next evening when I relayed that Suzanne could indeed join us, my husband, John, said, “I paid your tuition.” I thought about it. “I’ll ask if three can walk with me,” I said.

On that formal evening, my proud family accompanied me as I donned cap and gown for the ceremony. Upon seeing us, the audience broke into applause, and a newspaper photographer snapped a picture of us for a story. It had taken me eighteen years to earn my bachelor’s degree, but I could never have gotten it without my family’s support.

Photo courtesy of April Hoffman. 

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About This Blog

Sarah White, author and personal historian, has written for a variety of markets ranging from business “how-to” books to consumer advice for teens. She applies her professional writing experience to help individuals preserve their life stories through workshops, community projects and one-to-one coaching. Born into a writing family, White graduated from Indiana University in 1980 with a Journalism degree. She has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. Her memoir essays have been published online and in print. She has taught memoir writing locally since 2004, helping dozens of individuals to complete and publish their life stories. She is active in the Association of Personal Historians (www.personalhistorians.org), currently serving as the organization's president. 

 Sarah White

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