Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 22, 2015

A relaxing day with family and friends

Husband Art and I are now accustomed to rising a bit later in the morning - something we didn't get to do much during the school year when our two girls were at home. So getting up before 6 a.m. was not something I had looked forward to. The skies were cloudy and the air was heavy. The forecast was for severe storms off and on during the day - also not something I am a fan of. We had expected to be driving through them.

We picked up Mom and left Manhattan precisely at Art's target time of 7. Our destination was Lawrence, where niece Larisa was graduating from the University of Kansas.

It wasn't just us traveling either. Daughters Mariya and Katie and Mariya's girlfriend Miriam had started about 15 minutes before us. Brother Dave, sister-in-law Linda and their son Michael and family were making the trek from Salina. Sister Gaila, brother-in-law Humberto, their other daughter Gabriela and her boyfriend Bernie were coming from Kansas City. Friends from Manhattan and Burns were also planning to attend.

The farther east we went, the more the sky lightened. Art, always the one for the scenic route, exited the Interstate just east of Topeka and continued on Highway 40.

About 10 miles west of Lawrence, Art remarked, "What's that on top of that car?" Sitting in the back seat, I hadn't noticed anything unusual.

"Look at that! It's a camera." Art exclaimed. "It's a car taking pictures so when you go to the street level view on Web maps you'll be able to see what's along this road. How cool is that!" As we passed, we could see "Bing" - the name of the search engine company - emblazoned on the side of the car.

We arrived in Lawrence at about 8:20. Art used the GPS on his smart phone to guide us directly to the Ecumenical Christian Ministries building, where the ceremony was to take place. Art dropped us off and headed to find parking.

Art had not planned on joining us. "I didn't go to my own graduation. Why would I go to someone else's?" he had said. So I was surprised when in a few minutes he joined us. I think seeing the Bing car and getting to park for free just across the street had something to do with it!

Before long, we were greeting family and friends. The atmosphere was casual, conversational and comfortable. Two violinists and a guitarist entertained before the program began.

Larisa has been interested in "saving the world" ever since she was a little girl, so the fact that she had chosen an environmental studies program was no surprise. However, it did take awhile for most of us Wildcats to forgive her for choosing that "other" school down the river! But the program appeared to be a good fit for her. She had been thrilled to spend last summer in Tanzania as part of her coursework, and hopes to land a job where she can put her passion to work.

The program director welcomed us and described its interdisciplinary nature - classes from geography, law, natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Two undergraduate students and a master's student spoke about how it's sometimes discouraging to see what humans are doing to the environment, yet it can also be uplifting to know how each person, working in concert with others, can make a difference in the world.

One quoted Jane Goodall. "You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

She also quoted Albert Einstein. "Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."

Another mentioned that one of the common experiences they shared was the realization that they, too, were part of the problem.

As graduates were recognized, they were presented with envelopes containing prairie wildflower seeds. "Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life" was printed on the side - a quote from environmentalist Rachel Carson.

Art smiled and whispered, "They can take them home and plant them where they will then become invasive species!"

A reception with fruit, doughnuts, cake and drinks followed and then we crossed the street to the Oread Hotel to look out over campus.

Then Larisa's contingent of 23 headed to the Mi Ranchito restaurant for lunch. Great-nephew Gabriel told everyone that Aunt Gloria was going to sit by him. I wasn't going to pass up that invitation! We played a few games of Tic-Tac-Toe and did a word search.

It was fun catching up on the news in each other's lives. And in the center of it all was Larisa, beaming and showing off her various graduation gifts.

About 1, we split up. The storms held off until shortly after we got home.

"The day was a lot more relaxed than I thought it would be," husband Art commented to me. "I'm not sure, but it might have even been worth getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday for!"

Left: Larisa's family and friends help her celebrate after the ceremony at the Ecumenical Christian Ministries building; right: the happy graduate.

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