May 25, 1956, was Frank James Wolf’s commencement day at The Juilliard School of Music (as it was known then). It was also the day his second son was born. So Frank Wolf missed the ritual of walking across the stage to receive a Bachelor of Science degree with honors, which had taken nearly six years to complete because the Korean War interrupted his studies. He missed the overwhelming feeling of achievement in completing intensive college coursework while raising a young family and working full-time to support them. He missed honoring the accomplishment of traveling every day by train to obtain his degree from the most prestigious music school in America. There would be no party to mark the opportunity to finally pursue a career in his field of passion: music.
Life after Juilliard was certainly successful, though. Frank became a professional musician and supervisor of music for all schools in Linden, N.J., until his retirement in1992. He raised two sons and a daughter with a love for music. Despite crippling arthritis, he still plays and conducts to this day.
Still, my father-in-law lamented the fact that he missed that most important day and all that it stood for, 51 years ago. He told me the story of the circumstances that prevented him from attending his graduation, and it touched my heart. I decided right then and there that we would have to re-create this special day for him.
I immediately e-mailed Juilliard’s Office of Alumni Relations and they assisted me in purchasing the cap, gown, honors cord, hood, and tassel in the Juilliard color scheme. The reenactment would be a surprise for Father’s Day, with the whole extended family in attendance. We rented chairs, made commencement programs, borrowed a podium, recorded Pomp and Circumstance, blew up blue and gold balloons, and had everyone wear T-shirts with the school name on them. Frank’s children wrote speeches, and we even stole his Juilliard diploma right off his wall at home to present to him during the ceremony! An outdoor party was held following the mock ceremony, including a huge graduation cake with the words “Never Too Late.”
When Frank arrived, we told him this was his special day and presented him with the cap and gown. As I helped him into his robe and adjusted his hat, I could see he was overwhelmed. His sons gave speeches and his daughter had written a beautiful poem. Other family members spoke about his accomplishments and his influence on them growing up. The ceremony was very touching and full of emotion. Frank got to receive his diploma and switch his tassel to the other side. He said throughout the day, “I just can’t believe this actually happened!”
His son-in-law, Danny Reidy, said it best: “It isn’t often that one gets to hear how appreciated they are and how much they influenced others during their lifetime.”
Even though it was 51 years later, it wasn’t one second too late.