My name was called. I flashed a big grin and started walking across the stage.
Cameras clicked and whirred.
I felt like Miss Universe, except that, instead of a sceptre, I was being handed a scroll. Instead of a crown, I had a mortar board on my head.
After three years - thrice as long as most people take to do it full-time - I've done it. I graduated with a master's degree in Literary Studies last week.
Actually, I closed my books decisively more than six months ago.
After my final exam in November last year, I heaved a sigh of relief and declared to all and sundry that I was done.
Two-and-a-half years of rushing for classes in the evening, writing essays in the wee hours and making SOS calls to brainier friends to "talk it out" over my thesis statements, and I was done with academia.
I had honestly never studied so hard in my life.
In graduate school, I did all my readings, agonised over my assignments and missed only two classes. On both occasions, I was too ill to leave the house.
I went on staycations with my kids, only to take along stacks of notes to read in the hotel room. I ended up bashing out term papers by the poolside or in hotel lobbies.
Yes, life as a graduate student with kids was nowhere as colourful as my undergraduate stint.
Back then, I remember downing countless cups of ice lemon tea while waiting for lectures to start, jostling for workstations at the computer lab (with their "NO MUDDING" signs that everyone ignored), browsing in the co-op and checking out other girls' outfits in the never-ending fashion parade that was the arts faculty.
This time around, I just attended class and went home.
The most I got to hanging around campus was dashing to the book drop with my kids waiting in the car, with the engine idling.
I felt guilty for pursuing my own studies while neglecting to teach my younger son his ABCs.
Or for shooing my elder one away whenever he wanted to talk to me while I was trying to think.
I thought of these things as I passed through the catwalk of educational accomplishment last Thursday at the University Cultural Centre.
My parents were in the audience.
So were my husband and elder son.
I beamed my mega-watt beauty- queen smile, remembered to stand up straight, shook hands with the university president, then continued off the stage and back to my seat to clap for others in my cohort.
Balloons and streamers were let loose. The ceremony was over. I let the crowd buoy me out into the reception area.
For a while, I didn't know where my family was.
Then, I saw my husband's head bobbing towards me. The crowd parted enough for me to see my son walking ahead of his dad.
He had a bunch of lilies in his hands. I made a beeline for them.
I stooped and he presented me with the flowers.
The three of us wrapped our arms around one another in a group hug.
As jubilant scholars celebrated, creating a happy hubbub, I thought of all the leeway I'd been given by my family, the understanding from them as I worked towards this goal.
"Thank you for your support," I said over the din, meaning it with all my heart.