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Keaton Ross | Photo by Julia Nored

When graduation comes with no Pomp and Circumstance

Amid the global pandemic, a father reflects on his son's would-be momentous day.

OKLAHOMA CITY — When my son Keaton was about 4, a police car pulled up beside our minivan at a stoplight.

At that exact moment, our sweet child piped up from the car seat behind us. 

“Everybody, act natural,” he deadpanned, sounding like Elmer Fudd.

Where he came up with that, I have no idea. But two decades later, my wife, Tamie, and I still laugh about it.

Graduation time tends to make a parent nostalgic. And today, I find myself flooded with memories of my quintessential peacemaking middle son, now 22. 

The coronavirus crisis has derailed Oklahoma Christian University’s originally scheduled commencement ceremonies for Keaton and 367 fellow graduates.

Oklahoma Christian University had to postpone its normal commencement ceremonies because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oklahoma Christian University had to postpone its normal commencement ceremonies because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, a global pandemic can’t stop a teary-eyed father from reflecting on the momentous journey that led his little boy — er, young adult — to this point.

I picture Keaton, then 9, and I unrolling our sleeping bags on a patch of grass and rocks on a mission trip to the remote mountain village of Aquiles, Mexico. A braying burro and an insomniac rooster made it difficult to sleep.

I see us at countless Texas Rangers baseball games and chuckle at what happened when former American League MVP Josh Hamilton signed with a rival team. Keaton, then 15, made a video that voiced his displeasure with Hamilton’s decision. 

I envision us eating out — in ordinary times, this might not kindle such a longing — at our favorite burger, pizza and Tex-Mex restaurants and discussing the routine matters of life.

Keaton entered Oklahoma Christian, his parents’ alma mater, in fall 2016.


Related: As thousands die from the coronavirus, does Jesus care?


Uncertain about his major and what he wanted to do with his life, he worked hard and allowed God to do the rest.

He joined a social service club, Chi Lambda Phi, and made close friends. He pursued his interest in writing and chose to major in journalism (there’s some history of that in his family). He worked on the student newspaper, The Talon, and served as editor-in-chief his senior year.

The staff of The Talon, Oklahoma Christian University's student newspaper.

The staff of The Talon, Oklahoma Christian University’s student newspaper.

Two years ago, he did a summer internship with the Norman Transcript, the daily newspaper in the home city of the University of Oklahoma. This past summer, he worked full time for The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper. 

As Keaton began his senior year, everything seemed to be going his way.

He entered a contest and won a free year’s worth of Whataburger (for anybody unfamiliar with this delicacy, it’s the burger they’ll serve in heaven).

Then a different contest informed Keaton — one of the world’s most devoted Oklahoma City Thunder fans — that he had won an all-expenses paid trip for two to the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago. (His older brother, Brady, 26, was happy to join him.)

“I think it’s safe to say I’m peaking in 2019,” Keaton said after winning the trip.

Keaton Ross, right, with his brother, Brady, at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.

Keaton Ross, at right, with his brother, Brady, at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.

Unfortunately, 2020 would not prove so kind. Enter COVID-19.

Today is supposed to be one of the highlights of Keaton’s life. 

Today is supposed to be one of the highlights of Keaton’s life. He is supposed to don a cap and gown and wink at his mother as she wipes her eyes with a tissue. 

He is supposed to don a cap and gown and wink at his mother as she wipes her eyes with a tissue. 

He is supposed to walk across the stage, shake hands with university President John deSteiguer and accept his diploma (or at least the holder it’ll go in, once his final grades check out).

He is supposed to enjoy a party and get showered with gifts from family and friends celebrating this once-in-a-lifetime milestone.

Instead, he’ll graduate virtually (whatever that means). His actual commencement ceremony is on hold, tentatively set for August. But who knows if that will be possible?

 

His mother, younger sister Kendall, 20, and I will do our best to help him mark the occasion here at home. No doubt, his brother, sister-in-law, Mary, and 20-month-old nephew, Bennett, will Facetime him to offer their congratulations. 

However, it won’t be the same. 

It just won’t.

“The circumstances we have been dealt, for lack of a better word, suck. They are unprecedented,” Keaton wrote in a column for The Talon. “We have not dealt with such a disruptive and deadly pandemic in the United States since at least 1918. No one could have ever predicted an event of this magnitude cutting our college experience short. 

“It is OK to be disappointed,” he added. “But we must realize we will eventually be honored as graduates in some way, and we will reunite with our friends again soon. This event, whether it lasts two months or two years, is temporary.”

What a mature attitude! He gets that kind of thinking from his mom.

And there is a positive development (thank you, Lord!): Keaton has landed a job in his field, not an easy thing to do in these trying times for the news industry.

Starting June 1, he’ll work with Oklahoma Watch, a public watchdog news organization. As a Report for America corps member, he’ll cover criminal justice and the state prison system. It’s an amazing opportunity to make a difference.

I’m so proud of Keaton and thrilled about this next step in his journey. And I’m trying hard — real hard — not to be too disappointed about his big day’s lack of Pomp and Circumstance.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]

Filed under: Coronavirus family graduation Inside Story Keaton Ross National Oklahoma Christian University personal Rosses Top Stories

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