Dr. Lorianne Schaub

The picture says it all. In the end, I got my diploma, my royal blue hood, and my bouquet of roses. It was sunny, warm, and glorious in Boston: a beautiful spring day. Chris took this picture of me under the gazebo off Forsyth Street after we left Matthews Arena since from here you can see the big brick building where my faculty office used to be back when I taught at Northeastern, back when I was a student there. Now I no longer teach at Northeastern, I no longer have an office in either Holmes or Nightingale Hall, and I’ll never again be a student, except in my usual guise as an inquisitive life-long learner.

And yeah, the bastards lied about the 8-sided tam: the new Doctors got traditional mortarboards instead. So during the entire ceremony while I sat next to Dr. Lisa, the other English doctoral candidate from the class of 2004, we both admired Dr. ML’s sporty black tam and stunning blue regalia. Dr. ML served on both of our dissertation committees, so she was there to hood us both. (Yes, Dale, the one and only ML hooded and then hugged me. It was an honor, indeed!) Through the accident of alphabetical hierarchical seating, ML sat right in front of me during the entire ceremony. “Let me straighten your hood!” she gushed when we both returned to our seats after the official hooding, there not being much onstage time for proper primping.

Before the ceremony, ML clued me into two other academic secrets. First, at every commencement ceremony there’s always a hidden refreshments table that only professors know about: thank you, ML, for fetching some bottled water before the ceremony! Second, even Doctors need the right fashion accessories: in a moment of shameless girly-ness, ML opened her robe to reveal a tiny black sequined handbag slung over the shoulder of her sharply tailored suit. Even brilliant academics need to carry car-keys, money, and lipstick, you see.

Dr. Lorianne Schaub

Chris took plenty of pictures during the ceremony, but none of them turned out very well: he was far from the stage, so the pictures are blurry and underlit, even after excessive doctoring. But like images out of a dream, they capture the foggy outlines of scenes I won’t ever forget: the moment where I crouched down to allow petite ML to put the hood over my head; the moment where I walked down the steps offstage, flanked by other Doctors, after shaking hands with the University President. One of the regalia-clad Doctors who was directing traffic said “Welcome to the club!” as I walked past, and that pretty much sums it up. In the weeks since I defended, every time I brush elbows with other Docs, in my field or otherwise, there’s this subtle sense of comaraderie. “You’re no longer knocking at the door; you’ve been through the fire and survived. Now you’re one of us.” This sense of being welcomed into a fraternity of scholars, the finding of one’s own people, has been the biggest surprise of the entire process: somehow, I never thought having a silly slip of paper would make that much of a difference.

Dr. Lorianne Schaub

After I’d gotten that silly slip of paper (upon which, I noted with relief, they actually spelled my name correctly, a minor miracle when you have a name like “Lorianne”), Chris and I took a cab to the North End in search of Italian food. Whenever we visit a working class neighborhood that’s either predominantly Irish or predominantly Italian, Chris turns and remarks, “These are your people.” He’s right, of course: my family in Ohio is working class, and my father’s side of the family is Italian and my mother’s side is Irish. And it’s true that whenever I’ve strolled the streets of Boston’s North End, it’s felt like coming home. Although my dad’s big Italian family has long since left the low-rent ghetto of their youth and no longer speak Italian, there’s part of me that breathes a sigh of relief when I’m surrounded by dark-haired, olive-skinned people who are loud and spontaneous, gesticulating wildly with their hands over plenty of food and lots of wine. “These are my people,” my soul asserts.

So yesterday walking the streets of the North End felt like a kind of homecoming. The narrow streets and hidden alleys feel like Beacon Hill, where Chris and I used to live, but the mood is funky, gritty, working class, entirely unlike the stiff-upper-lipped WASPishness of the Hill. Professors and other white-collared professionals live in Beacon Hill and walk homogenous dogs, a golden retriever at the end of every Rolex-sporting wrist. In the North End, gray-haired men in Hawaiian shirts and bermuda shorts shout to each other in Italian as they play bocce on raked courts that overlook the harbor. “Hey Pasquale! You wanna play a game,” one says in English to a newcomer. “No, no, Angelo: I was playing here all day,” the other responds as Angelo steps onto a neighboring court to show a technique or two to a handful of Gap-clad young women who are obviously new to the game. “How’s your baseball team doing, Nicky?” one of the old men asks a youngster as he retrieves bocce balls at the end of yet another game. “I play second base!” the boy replies as a tall skinny blond guy, obviously not Italian, tosses a ball with a practiced hand. The old Italian men watch and nod: even Anglos can play bocce if they watch and imitate the Old Guys.

“They all are shaped like my Dad!” I whisper to Chris as we settle on a bench to watch a game or two in the setting sun. “Skinny legs, no butt, and a full belly, just like my Dad.” It’s true. Although there are no bocce courts in Ohio, at family gatherings my Dad and his brothers would play a game or two in the backyard while women and youngsters watched: what a moment of truth when one of the Old Guys showed a trick or two to a boy or, occasionally, a woman. “Welcome to the club,” this sharing of secrets seemed to suggest. “You’re one of our people now.” If I let my eyes fall out of focus–if I let the edges around those men blur and the colors fade like a taken-from-afar photo–those men could have been my Dad and his brothers, that park bench a backyard picnic table in Ohio, seen as if through a dream.

And so in the shadow of Copp’s Hill, in Boston’s North End, it all seemed to come full circle. Robe-wearing Doctors and Bermuda-shorts clad Old Guys: are they the same or different? Professorial or working-class, Irish or Italian, tam’ed or mortarboarded, which do you prefer? “These are your people,” the setting sun seemed to say. “Welcome to the club.” The Winner’s Circle is always a crowded place, filled with fans and well-wishers and the teeming hoards of people, near and far, who made the victory possible. These are my people indeed.