As I watched the college students march proudly in procession into the stadium, I nostalgically remembered the excitement of that day in my life years ago at my undergrad college graduation from the University of Illinois in Urbana.
I never imagined that one day I would be watching my students' graduation. I sat in the front row ceremoniously attired in my cap, gown and hood to support the commencement ritual for the new grads.
Scanning their faces, I could see the pride and the relief that they had made it to the prize. I watched them accept their diplomas while their families and friends whistled and applauded as their names were called.
As they came down the stairs, some shouted out; one did a cartwheel, and another did a victory dance.
As I reminisced, I remembered that sunny day when I stood beaming in my cap and gown, clutching that hard earned diploma in front of the University's Assembly Hall. I was on top of the world.
I remembered the look on my face preserved in the photo my parents kept on display for years. I was glowing, filled with hopes, dreams and goals for a bright future.
A college degree was my ticket to a new life, better than my parents had, to live the American dream...the first college grad in our family, let alone the only female.
My four years of study prepared me to be an English teacher K-12. I believed that was the life ahead of me.
Graduating from college is what my mother had encouraged me to do after her own education was cut short by a depression that required her to quit school as an 8th grade honors student and work in the local factory to help her family put food on the table. My father managed to graduate high school which was typical for his generation.
I could relate to the students who pursued a degree while working fulltime, raising families and going to school at night. I appreciated their struggles and determination.
It had not been easy for me either. If it hadn't been for three scholarships and working three jobs, I could not afford to pay for my education. There were no other funds available at the time.
Looking back at that day when the world was my oyster, I thought I knew where the journey would take me: marriage, children, a teaching career and a comfortable life in a small town in the Midwest.
I had a master plan and a script to follow. I was all set.
Little did I know, how differently my life would go. I had college credits and a degree but little life experience for what was to come.
Years later after my divorce, I moved East to pursue a corporate communications and marketing career and even became a vice president of a high-tech start-up as my career advanced.
I raised my children as a single parent, then married and divorced again, and ultimately returned to teaching after many years in the business world. Along the way I earned my MA from the University of Richmond.
That was not the plan the day I stood proudly clenching my diploma ready to take on the world, or so I thought.
Where will the journey take the new grads? The one thing I can tell them is that it will be an adventure they cannot imagine and wouldn't want to miss.
Erana Leiken, principal of Tiger Marketing, is a marketing and PR consultant and freelance writer. She also teaches communication courses at the University of Phoenix and Web marketing and interactive content for the Art Institute of Phoenix.
Formerly an NBC reporter, magazine editor, and Web business writer, she is writing creative nonfiction and doing Web consulting. See www.tigermarketing.com.