Graduations and deaths are very much alike

Published 9:38 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Death and graduations. So very different but so very alike. My week was filled with graduations and death in one form or another. There were new deaths with funerals not yet set. There were funerals for deaths that occurred some days or weeks ago.

There were graduations that occurred this week.  There was a graduation that occurred fifty years ago.

Graduations are both endings and beginnings. We graduate from one level in order to go to the next level. Death is an ending and beginning. We graduate from this life in order to go to the next life.

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Let me start with a graduation of long ago. It was some five decades, some 50 years. It was the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Talladega College. I didn’t really want to go because of conflicts, but I had promised classmates that I would attend. But I had so much to do including dealing with deaths and other graduations. I wished I had not promised, but I had to keep my word.

On Friday, the first day of the 50th celebration at Talladega College, I learned of two deaths of persons I have to acknowledge. I already had two funerals scheduled the next day that I needed to attend. One was in Lowndes County and the other in Mobile at the same time. I had secured Senate resolutions for each. I also had two other graduations of family members and a third graduation of an extended family member who babysat my second grandchild some years ago. I needed to be everywhere but could not be everywhere.

I had a hard week in the Senate. I also made several visits to doctors for my back. In addition, I made a round trip to Atlanta. But it was the deaths and graduations that challenged me most. I received two calls notifying me of death on Friday. One death involved Gwen Patton of Montgomery who was in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and a charter member of Alabama New South Coalition. Then, Ethel Washington of Selma died. Ms. Washington was 92 and teasingly said about me, “He is Rose’s husband and my man.” These are funerals for the next week or so.

I had two funerals scheduled for Saturday. One was for Uralee Haynes who was the first African American school superintendent of the Lowndes County School System. I served as school board attorney while she served as Superintendent. I had to go to this funeral, but I was torn because I felt like I also had to go to the funeral of John H. Davis of Wilcox County. His funeral was in Mobile. Davis was a fellow civil rights struggler and client. He sat in President Harry Truman’s office in 1948 until the President issued an order allowing African Americans to vote in federal elections.

Then I had three graduations over two days. One was for Imani Jackson, who was graduating from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Another was in Selma for Tearra Wright, my granddaughter by foster relationship and an employee in my law office. The third, Zakiya Varner, was graduating in Montgomery. She is my blood niece and a former employee of my law office. Every death was important. Every graduation was important.

Here’s how I managed. My dear wife, Faya Rose Toure, went to Imani’s graduation in Knoxville on Thursday and Tearra’s graduation in Selma on Friday and John H. Davis funeral in Mobile on Saturday. I traveled the 110 miles to Talladega for a 2:30 p.m. 50th anniversary event and then 85 miles to Montgomery for the 6 p.m. graduation of Zakiya and then 50 miles to Selma for the night. On Saturday, I went to the funeral of Uralee Haynes in Lowndes County, returned to Selma and then traveled back to Talladega for the 50th anniversary banquet and back to Selma.  I did not tarry at any of these events but with special help touched each of them one way or the other.

There are key moments in life that demand our presence. Funerals are one such moment. We only get one chance for each person. It means a lot to family and friends just to see our faces.  Graduation is another such moment. People want to see us at their graduations. Of course, 50th graduations come but once in our lifetime.

It’s amazing how things that seem so different can be so similar. We just have to look beyond the surface. Death and graduations are just one such example.