It’s Commencement-time across the country and famous and not-so-famous people are addressing the nation’s Class of 2008. This morning as I was driving into work, there was a short story on NPR about Maria Shriver putting an Obama sign on the front lawn of their California home and Arny following suite with a McCain sign.
It reminded me of one of the most exciting experiences of my life.
It was Commencement 2004 and I was working at a local university. My department had the unlucky task of working commencement every year (which also always fell on Mother’s Day), handling the VIPs, press and other behind-the-scenes details. That year my sister was graduating from the same university so I was technically excused from working. However, my boss did offer me one opportunity, for which I will be eternally grateful.
You see, two people receiving honorary degrees that afternoon were Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Two of my heroes. Knowing what it would mean to me to meet them, my boss offered me the opportunity to “staff” them that morning. Of course I jumped on the opportunity.
Mr. Shriver took most of my time and attention. I knew he was suffering from Alzheimer’s but was surprised at its toll. He was amazingly kind, personable, funny and attentive to me, but also asked the same things over and over again and needed constant attention.
Mrs. Shriver was perhaps the most elegant person I’ve ever encountered in real life. She was very kind but also quite reserved.
At one point, however, Mrs. Shriver asked me to go over her speech with her. We sat down and she started reading it quietly to me. She began, “Throughout my life I’ve been known as many things. I’ve been known and John’s sister and Bobby’s sister and Ted’s sister. I’ve been known as Sargent’s wife. Now, I’m best known as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother-in-law.”
I know it is rude to interrupt. But, I just couldn’t help myself. I quipped, “But you’re still a Democrat!”
Laughing she said, “That’s a great line!” and proceeded to hand-write it into the speech!
Minutes later I was standing back stage as she addressed the crowd and when she got to my line the crowd went wild—laughing and cheering. I was beaming.
Due to the length of the ceremony and their advanced age, Mr. and Mrs. Shriver left the stage immediately after receiving their degrees and giving their remarks. As I escorted them out of the building and into their waiting car, Mrs. Shriver thanked me for the great line.
It really did make the speech.
And, it was one of the best moments of my life.