A Tale of Unsolicited Wisdom
A Tale of Unsolicited Wisdom
As a child, I was forced to attend many Ugandan wedding ceremonies. ‘Joel, tomorrow we have a wedding.’ My mother would often say. One of the things I never understood was whether that was a suggestion or merely a notice. Frankly, I hated it. And God forbid if it was a wedding with bad food. My facial expressions at these events would have made worthy memes. One time, at a relative’s wedding, we sat next to the sound speaker’s system. The speakers were all black – about two meters long and half a meter wide. Whenever they played music, I was literally running mad. The sound was so deafening that long after the music had played, I’d hear its echoes within my head. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t go to any more wedding ceremonies. ’If you don’t attend people’s weddings, who will attend yours.’ I’ve been conditioned to believe. Ugandan weddings excluded; graduation parties are some of the most dramatic events I have attended.
Graduation parties are laced with humor and heightened emotions but, they also reek with intrigue and are easily some of the most presumptuous events. Isn’t it odd, how graduation speeches are sage and every speaker invokes practical wisdom from their successful lives? One would think that it’s a meeting of monks. Some cry, while most relatives, in a very assuming way offer unsolicited advice on the next steps to take after a degree. My two sisters completed their degrees this year. As their siblings, we planned a party to celebrate this milestone. But as it is, I was genuinely challenged. My brain was stretched to its creative limits, as I struggled to figure out what gifts to get my sisters.
‘What should I get Jacinta and Melanie for their graduation?’ I asked my brother. ‘Just ask them what they want?’ He responded with a smirk on his face. Such time saving, pragmatic and helpful advice! I still had some relative objectivity to look beyond my brother’s rational advice. Most people prefer receiving gifts as surprises instead of full-blown disclosures on their preferences. Where was the excitement in that?
On my most recent graduation, I was excited, but mother’s enthusiasm exceeded mine, by miles. As I prepared for my graduation, my parent insisted on buying me a suit, which I still have. It was a nice suit – even fitting enough to conceal my small bulging belly. Even though, my mother was unable to make it to the United Kingdom, I still felt the joy when I wore the suit she bought. To date, I wear the suit on special occasions. That’s how endearing the gifts we receive on graduation grow to be become a part of us.
I’ve always loved receiving gifts, everyone does. Afterall, gifts are free. The only challenge gifts present is the social pressure they create- the need to reciprocate the same affection to whoever has given you a gift. Despite growing up in a humble home – our family, was vainly materialistic at certain times of the year. Important celebrations were always marked with new clothes and shiny shoes. On Christmas and Easter, our delight wasn’t focused on Jesus’ birth or resurrection (however revolutionary these events might have been or are). Our main concern was which first-hand clothes we would get from the shops. My understanding of the importance of gifts on special occasions was rooted in this contradictory experience.
The best place to start when looking for gifts is the mall. Together with my brother we went to a city mall in Kawokya, Kampala. I began moving from one aisle to another within Aristoc, a Ugandan bookstore. I checked out different books and other possible gifts for my sisters. I knew I wanted to buy a book(s) for one of my sisters but, frankly, I wasn’t sure if they were that much into reading.
I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket, so I pulled it out. ‘Where are you?’ ‘Everyone else is here, you are the only one’s missing.’ My mother asked, in such a disappointed tone. We were running late. I picked out two books and a pair headsets. I hurriedly wrote my messages in the books, bought gift packs for each of the separate gifts. After which, we set off for the restaurant.
Weeks before the event, I thought about what graduation meant. I asked my colleagues how they felt at their last graduation. For most, the pandemic had delayed their graduations, and by the time the ceremony came, they felt that it was long overdue. For another, her recent graduation was an affirmation, ‘When I saw my name on the graduation list, I was just relieved, honestly.’ She spoke fondly about her recent graduation from the bar course. Indeed, graduations are exciting ceremonies that recognize a student’s efforts and the support of their loved ones. I could only imagine how my sisters felt.
Most people love recognition, but it is sometimes uncomfortable when you are the sole object of everyone’s attention. On my own graduation lunches, although I enjoyed the food, my experience was the least but exciting. I had to keep on smiling. Wearing the mortarboard hat while eating was very inconveniencing as the strings on the hat kept on covering my face and mouth. At the beginning, I had to hug everyone who attended. Some of these hugs were with people, I could barely have a five-minute conversation with. Then, I had to regurgitate the same small talk to entertain everyone who was asking me about my journey to the degree. It was exhausting. Before, I knew it, we had arrived at the restaurant for my sisters’ party.
There was a well set up photo booth inscribed in calligraphy with the words ‘They just made it: Melanie and Jacinta’. We took pictures with the graduates and were then treated to a Chinese buffet. My sisters were stunning. Jacinta wore a sleeveless maroon dress while Melanie wore a green ball-room like gown. The emcee led us through a few games where we were asked questions to test how much we really knew about the graduates. I failed most of the questions including their best colors. I couldn’t even guess their favorite movies. In typical Ugandan style, although the winners celebrated, as the losers, we contested the results.
In the late afternoon, the speeches then began. One of our relatives whispered to my sisters, ‘now we want another degree’. I am not sure whether that meant a master’s degree. I learnt that usually it means that the next degree is marriage. I understand that this is directed mostly to female graduates, which my sisters obviously were. It is quite interesting how, instantaneously, relatives expect upon graduation that women should get married. It is often the measuring rod for most women, and some of my older sisters have constantly had to explain themselves. Recently, I was also told by a close relative that I am incomplete even with a master’s degree. That, I need a wife. It is interesting that relatives know my needs more than myself.
My oldest sister, Susan congratulated Jacinta and Melanie upon their graduation in her speech. Hardly had she spoke, before she started crying. That was the beginning of a rainy day- indoors. Jacinta, got up to speak. She barely mustered two words before breaking down in tears. Then, her mother took over the speech and shared (in excruciating detail) a monologue on Jacinta’s journey as a baby to this day. Later Melanie, stood up to talk. In a collected and brief manner, she said a few words and then took her seat. Her speech was as long as the tik tok videos I’ve seen on her WhatsApp status. One of Melanie’s male friends sat next to her at the event. I kept on teasing both of them, asking whether they were more than just friends.
As the elder brother, I was asked to address the guests and graduates. I had prepared pointers for my speech. I told my sisters to treat people kindly, challenge themselves and asked them to strive to be better. I shared about the patterns after my own graduations. Coincidentally, I took on internships after two of my degrees. When I finished my undergraduate law degree, I interned with a commercial law firm before enrolling on the bar course. Even, when I finished my advanced degree, I undertook a summer placement with a commercial law firm in London. But, I had also worked for a newspaper company when I had just finished the Ugandan bar exams. Drawing from these instances, I rode the high horse and told them to be humble- that a degree was only the beginning. I had become the very person I detested, purporting to advise while drawing from my apparently fulfilled life.
Still, nothing beats the feeling of graduation. I handed my sisters their gifts and, in the evening, we set off. There is a lot of optimism and hope in the future that lays ahead. Perhaps graduates need more hope than anything, because adulting rips us apart, piece by piece, until we get to give advice on another graduation about humility, patience and kindness.
Thank u for sharing, joel
You are welcome.
I like this Joel. As always, I love your vivid descriptions coupled with homour-more like an innocent child saying it as it is! I especially relate to the ‘another degree.’ They even go ahead to give you gifts like “white” towels, flat irons, duvets, glasses and cutlery just to drive the point home. Ugandan parties are so dramatic! Meanwhile some people have postponed their parties till after the pandemic so that they are not limited to go full blast! That’s Uganda for you!
Thanks Esther for the kind words, I happy to hear that you enjoyed this. I appreciate the feedback. Yes, there are a lot of innuendos from the gifts given to a graduate. It is too much drama which has now turned a booming business for example through decorations. We hope that the pandemic ends soon, for those whose parties are on hold.
Wow! Awesome. This is great Joel. Thank you for sharing. Always looking forward to reading from you.
Thanks, Keith for taking the time to read and for these kind words.
Very good narration.
Thank you for these kind words, Merab.
“In typical Ugandan style, although the winners celebrated, as the losers, we contested the results.”
Nicely pointed out unexpectedly! Thanks Joel.. love it!
Thanks Brian. I am glad that you love it, Brian.
This piece was great and articulate. Always enjoy your writing Joel I am glad I got to read this…
Thanks Gloria for taking the time to read and for these kind words. I am glad you enjoyed reading this.
I really enjoyed reading this article, so beautiful. You needed to get a female opinion on the gifts for your sisters?? so many options.
Anyway parties in general are dramatic but come with a lot of excitement.
Yes, I should have sought a female opinion, it would have saved me a lot of time. Next time, better. I agree, parties come with a lot of drama and excitement, maybe that is what keeps us going.
Thanks, Grace. I am glad you enjoyed reading this.
Awesome piece. I love the intense description of a typical Ugandan graduation party from having relatives you aren’t really close to making most of the numbers on the invited guests lists, every one giving unsolicited advice sometimes so uncoordinated to withstanding the pressure to keep joyous face in front of a bunch of kinda strangers serving a great deal of attention.
I love the honesty about adulting bursting our bubbles of attachment and entitlement to perfection open right before our own eyes after graduation is done.
Great imagery l could picture the entire blog all out in my head.
Thanks for this Joel.
Thank you Gloria, for these extremely kind words. Yes, the Ugandan graduation parties I have attended are overly intrusive however exciting they might be. Perhaps they are reflective of how deeply communal our societies are. Indeed, adulting teaches us a lot, and is inevitable after graduation. I am glad that you could picture the entire blog. You are most welcome, Gloria, and thanks for taking the time to read and for sharing this feedback.
Great article as always you give us the full course to feast on and savour the exquisite details. Thank you sir.
Thanks, Michael. You are most welcome.
Great read Joel, thanks for sharing!
Thanks Michael for taking the time to read and for the kind words.
Nice piece Joel,
Thanks Syndia. I am glad you could relate.
“Relatives know my needs more than myself”.
A certain paragraph caught my eye?(female graduates have to add on that “extra degree”). A graduation day is supposed to be the happiest day in anyones life..like a complete journey. Unlike me, my relatives have been hinting on it how i am leaving campus and i cant leave without someone being in the picture. My graduation speech is set to answer *the non missing extre degree i wont add on any sooner* but how do they care?….. Its like a transition From the degree to work to marriage. Currently i dont even want to have a graduation day with relatives included(except those that added value while i was in school).
First, ive a twin brother with whom i share a course and we dont have the same brains…so some relatives will differetiate; how this one was better than the other.
Just have to probably hint on the MC to just say we both passed so well but Relatives will always ask ‘how many’. Not in a bad way Covid-19 did bring less people to the table. Graduation parties of 200 people turned to a family dinner of 10 only. I would like to have that, but such parties are like arranged marriages…whether you like it all not, parents are involved.
This was a nice piece to read Joel.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lisa. It is quite odd, how society has different expectations of different genders. I am sorry that you have to deal with this, even before your own graduation. I look forward to listening to your graduation speech. Some people might be far from happy with your intended answers. I can imagine the discomfort that comes from comparing one to their siblings, especially one’s twin. I relate with that, having grown up with several siblings. I guess the less people at a party, the better. Parties, are usually about parents- much more than the main celebrants. I am glad that you could relate to this blog, Lisa. Thank you for taking the time to read and for these very generous and kind words.
This is a well wriiten piece:very descriptive at some point I felt we were sharing a table space and you were narating the events as the happened iin real time.keep writing.
Thank you Mukwaya for these kind words. I am glad that you got such a vivid picture of everything. I will continue to write. Thank you for the encouragement.
I couldn’t stop laughing for I can completely relate, though I love observing and the humor that comes with graduations and weddings for they create such beautiful memories plus when will we ever get to wear maroon dresses and green gowns lol!
Thank you, Joel, for such a well-written imaginative piece.
I am glad that you could relate with this Mable. Yes, there are very many funny moments at weddings and graduation parties. I agree, parties give us a perfect excuse to dress (over dress) up. Thanks for these kind words and, for taking the time to read.
A very great piece, very relatable and detailed. I was hoping you’d share the titles and authors of the books??
Thanks, Brian for taking the time to read and for this positive feedback. One book was a prayer journal by Julie K. Gillies while the other, was a book titled ‘ Everything is figure-outable’ by Marie Forleo.
I feel so seen and understood in this one! So relatable! I’m always here for you it. Thank you?
I am glad that you feel understood and seen, Christine. You are most welcome.
What a nice piece of literature. It is very interesting
Thanks Elvis. I appreciate these kind words.
Very true, In our society a gift is a debt. Nice piece Joel.
Yes, it is quite odd- the expectations that follow when one receives a gift. Thanks for taking the time to read, Marvin, and for the kind words.
Vivid and enthralling??
This is nice
Thank you Faith.
I have never had a graduation party. I will probably have one when I complete my law degree given the hype my mother has for the degree. It’s like I didn’t already graduate before. My IT degree is not mentioned anywhere. I will have to bare everything that comes with a Ugandan graduation party. It’s just one day , right!
Yes, it is just one day! My mother took more pride in my completing the law degree than I ever did- so I can relate with that. In America, the law degree is a second degree, in my opinion, as a lawyer you are likely to make a more meaningful contribution to jurisprudence because of your peculiar back ground (from a first degree). A hearty congratulations to you for completing your IT degree. I take full cognizance of it. Thank you for taking the time to read and for sharing your thoughts on the topic. I appreciate that a lot, Nasser.
Thank you Joel. It was such an amazing piece of literature. I enjoyed every moment of reading it.
I think it had very interesting topics of discussion.
For example whether it is mandatory for a lady to get married upon graduation ?
The sense of humor ” meeting of monks”
You are most welcome, Peter. I am glad that you enjoyed reading it. Yes, the topic of parties and ceremonies here in Uganda is very interesting. Indeed, the million dollar question-where is your spouse? Thanks for taking the time to read, Peter. I appreciate that, a lot.
Very interesting piece Joel! ? As someone who missed a formal graduation ceremony due to COVID restrictions, I certainly feel like I still haven’t properly graduated yet! I did hold a compensation party in Uganda last year and fortunately, I didn’t get bucketloads of fullfilled life advice from any of the speakers ? Instead, everyone was reminiscing about the good, bad and ugly of my life’s journey fortunately without loads of tears. I found that rather fulfilling to look back and then to shine a spotlight onto what was coming next. As you described, there were several odd moments at my ceremony too. The priest at the Thanksgiving service asked me not to sleep around and father children out of wedlock, so there you go! ??
Thanks Allan for taking the time to read. Yes, there is something about a formal graduation ceremony- everyone ought to experience it. I wrote about it here. I am happy to hear that the compensation party was reflective, fulfilling and had less tears. Some how, there must always be an innuendo about marriage- the priest had to mention it, otherwise it wouldn’t be a real graduation. Thanks for taking the time to read and for sharing your thoughts, Allan.
Wonderful peace Joel. Thank you for sharing
Very humorous narrative and vivid description of events as they unfolded. I had a good laugh but also it made me reflect on our Ugandan ceremonies.
Thanks, Alexander for these kind words. You are most welcome. I am glad that you had a good laugh but, even more importantly, that the blog offered you some reflection points. I appreciate the feedback.
Thank you for sharing Joel!
This is a beautiful piece. Reminds me of Brennan Baby’s content. Extremely relatable.
I wish we could just celebrate the moment without the expectation and pressure of another graduation.
Congratulations to Mellanie and Jacinta.
You are most welcome, Lilian and thank you for these kind words. Yes, Brenan Baby’s content totally portrays Ugandan events and school experiences. I agree, celebrating the moment without social pressure is the ideal. I will convey your greetings to them. Thanks.
Nice article Joel. An important reminder on humility, treating people with respect and the fact that a degree is only the beginning. Keep the faith & congratulations to your sisters!
Thank you Kato. Yes, humility and treating people with respect is really important. I will share with them your congratulatory wishes. Thank you, Kato, for always taking the time to read and comment on my blogs.
This is so beautiful Joel. Thank you for sharing, more power to you and your family! Happy holidays 🙂
Thank you Atrayee for reading and for these kind words. You are welcome. Happy Holidays Atrayee!
Gosh I can’t wait to graduate again???…
Bachelors of Architecture can be a bumpy ride ??
I am looking forward to your graduation. Kindly don’t forget to invite me.