Graduation on the Road

Today’s guest is Ellen Ingwerson, who recently graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington — my own alma mater. Ellen is the daughter of my old friend Clara Germani, a journalist with whom I’ve worked for a very long time. Ellen studied Studio Art and Film and Media Studies at Whitman. Over the last four years, through her mother’s post on Facebook, I’ve delighted in watching Ellen’s progress at Whitman, which is a wonderful place to be a student. Because of the virus, Ellen missed out on a formal graduation, but, as her mother writes, she took it in her stride, displaying ‘her very “Ellen” cheer even in this weird time‘. She marked her graduation on the road, heading west to California.

In an e-mail, Ellen wrote: ‘I left Walla Walla on my own to to go back home [to St Louis] in mid-March. This was pretty much immediately when the virus took off in the media and while Whitman was making the decision to close the campus.’ When she got back, she landed smack dab in the middle of preparations for yet another family move, this time out to California.

‘It all happened in extremes and really really fast’, she writes. ‘As an art major, I was preparing to install my thesis in an art gallery on campus but in the course of a week I had to pack up my studio, pack up as much as I could in my house, and didn’t even get to say goodbye to my best friends and housemates who were actually having a “spring break” elsewhere. And in addition to all that, the day before I left I got news of my birth-grandmother’s death (unrelated to the virus). It was like the world was testing my emotion and patience on all types of loss and I never really had the opportunity to sit with it or understand it. I just had to move forward the best I could with the situation at hand.’ 

Congratulations Ellen, both for graduating and for doing it in style.

One of the first pictures I had my mom photograph was at the bulge of the Colorado river called Lake Havasu at a campground where my mother spent summer weekends as a kid. There was difficulty in recognizing the familiar yet changed landscape of a dear memory she had had, superimposed by time, gated resorts, planted palm trees, and perhaps a distracting nonsensical argument between the two of us. Sometimes I thought it would be easier to set up the camera myself rather than try to direct my mother to capture the composition that I wanted. But that probably wouldn’t have been a realistic metaphor.

It was the week before my 2020 graduation – an event that 6 million other college graduates will have missed. I spent my spring break packing up my room in Walla Walla to drive back to my parents’ house in St. Louis without knowing that I would be moving to California once I’d arrived. It was during this initial drive with my mother, paralleling Route 66, that I decided I shouldn’t wait to take my graduation photos once we reached the ocean because the destination didn’t hold any significant meaning so much as this weird climactic and unexpected journey that I was on.

I was posing for these photos in open spaces, sometimes with passersby that would shout ‘congratulations,’ or simply hoot, sometimes not. Some of these places I knew of or had been to before but it didn’t matter because that was before and now it was now. 

I think I’m realizing that with all the positive feedback I’m receiving after publicly posting this montage, it reflects both our current situation as well as one that’s been seen before. It represents a position in life that everyone can or will relate to – a familiarity in the unfamiliar and a place we unexpectedly and even reluctantly fit into or find ourselves a part of. And that’s a good thing because in the end, we all belong there and we’re all a part of it.

And Finally:

Published by DeGroovy

I am a journalist, historian, and professor at the University of St Andrews. I was born in the United States, but have lived in Scotland since 1980. I am a voracious reader, keen gardener, carpenter, cook and Mr. Fix-it.

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