The Graduate

A Flash Back Friday picture of us “Three Musketeers” taken at a U.S.C. football game back in the late 80s.

Today is Friday the 13th!  I love this day, though some are actually freaked out by it.  I even posted a story about the Triskaidekaphobia with this calendar date which you can read here.  But today is a very special day for our family. My daughter will be graduating with a masters degree in social work from U.S.C.  Though she isn’t the first in the family to attend this prestigious university in Los Angeles, she is the first one of us to achieve a post grad degree. It hasn’t been easy as she is also a mommy to two precious little girls.  But as I have experienced, many things in life that are worth striving for are indeed challenging.

I too attended U.S.C as a “mature student” and though I graduated two years before he did, my son and I were on campus at the same time.  I even shared a funny Facebook related story on here about my son and I going to the same college.  But what I haven’t shared on here is how I got to the place where I became a student at the age of 40!  I’m sure this day will bring up a lot of feelings for me, but good ones.  Knowing that I was the first one in my family to attend university and ultimately graduate with honors is a big accomplishment.

What follows is my U.S.C. entrance application essay. It is amazing to go back and think of how far my journey has brought me and how grateful I am for my blessings!

USC Application Personal Essay: Describe a book, play, composition or work of art that has inspired or intrigued you and tell us what it means for you personally.

Bovard Auditorium is an unlikely place for a life altering transformation, but on April 24, 1997 that is exactly what took place. I have been a lover of classical music my entire life, and, in fact, my daughter and son were born to the music of Mozart and Beethoven respectively. On that Thursday evening in April, however, I had the pleasure to experience for the first time Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto in C Minor. The USC Symphony powerfully performed it, along with soloist Robert Thies. I had no idea, when I took my seat in the packed auditorium, that I would be inspired to such depths that I would ultimately have the courage to dramatically change my destiny.

At that point in my life I had been married for sixteen years to a man who thought they gave out prizes for philandering. However, because of my commitment to our family I felt the need to stay in the relationship; not to mention the fact that he cruelly reminded me on a regular basis that I couldn’t survive without him. From the first eight lonely and haunting bars, to the final triumphant note, I felt a connection to the Concerto that was overwhelming. During the thirty-four minutes of the performance, I was both weeping and cheering. I related to the tension and anxiety in the first movement’s quick rhythms. It seemed as though there was a sense of urgency. When the first movement ended abruptly, it conveyed to me a feeling of questioning and a need for action. I was thoroughly surprised during the second movement when I heard a familiar melody. I realized Eric Carmen used that same melody in his 1976 hit record. Reflecting on his lyrics, “All by myself, don’t wanna be, all by myself, anymore. All by myself, don’t wanna live all by myself, anymore,” I realized that was how I felt. I was with someone, but I was really alone, and that was not how I wanted to live. The second movement also contained a sense of hope, particularly identified for me in the woodwind instruments. The emotional interplay between the piano and strings spoke of love and forgiveness. It ended very quietly and serenely and the third movement began with a mood of wonder. The rousing finale heralded energy and redemption. It is beyond comprehension that this beautiful piece of art is complex and yet simply understood. What is especially intriguing is how it can be interpreted so differently depending on each listener’s frame of reference.

For days following the concert, the music resonated in my head. I purchased a recording and listened to it so often I could anticipate each phrase, each note. I then began researching the history behind the composition. It struck me that Rachmaninoff wrote it after he suffered a three year depression. The music took on an even greater significance for me when I learned that what led to his depression were the scathing reviews from critics of his first piano concerto which debuted in 1897. One reviewer suggested that it would have better if the composer had never even been born. My admiration and awe for this man swelled each time I listen to his masterpiece that was not only courageous and cathartic, but also victorious.

Shortly thereafter I filed for divorce. I learned from a one hundred year old composition that even if someone tries to destroy you, you must have the courage to rise up and succeed. To my ex-husband’s chagrin, I have not only survived, but I have thrived. Not until this moment have I shared with anyone what Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto means for me personally. I continue to be a fan, and have seen many performances at such venues as the Hollywood Bowl and Music Center. I suppose I’m a “Rach Groupie.” Like the culmination of a composition, this story will come full circle if I’m fortunate enough to be accepted to USC as a transfer student for the Fall 2004 semester. I will certainly have a richer appreciation when passing Bovard Auditorium than the average student.

Yes indeed I felt appreciation, in fact on the day of the new student orientation, I remember bursting into tears when we passed the Bovard Auditorium on the tour of the campus.  Cathartic and happy tears, which were present again on the day of my graduation.  I was so excited to be wearing a cap and gown that I went to sleep wearing them!  And I am sure a tear will be shed today as well being back at my alma mater cheering on my daughter.  But it’s okay because emotions are a beautiful reminder of our humanness.  And being a graduate is actually a lifelong process as we are constantly learning.  Once we think we have the knowledge under our belts, new information or situations arise.  That is what keeps us moving forward.  Good thing our eyes are on the front of our heads!

Love and Fight on! (while making the “V” sign with your fingers, which is the U.S.C. trademark symbol)


It was so amazing to share my day with my kids. I wore my honors cords proudly, but am most proud of being their mom!



One thought on “The Graduate

  1. Wow Karen! That essay was beautiful and so inspiring. You have soared to such heights since then. Very proud to know you and call you my friend. Xx

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