For the past three years, 60 million readers of books and newspaper comic strips have laughed and moaned at her all-too-human progress through torts writs and touching self-doubt at being a 42-year-old divorcee on the lam from suburban rigor mortis.
There were high times (the bold decision to move in with hip reporter Rick Redfern) and the low (becoming homestick upon hearing a tape from the kids at the coop nursery school). But throughout there was a single-minded determination a achieve that special goal, to stop preparing for life and start getting on with it.
And yesterday, in a sea of mortarboards in the shade of ancient eucalyptus and within sight of the Campanile Bell Tower, Ms. Joanie Caucus took another step toward getting on with it. Unlike her 225 classmates she never attended a seminar and never earned a grade. Nor was she present when her name was called - between Lee Catogno and Kevin Chee - to receive her certificate of completion. No matter. Just let it be reported that Ms. Caucus was graduated her today official and for real from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, the University of California's most prestigious law school.
Also for the record, Garry Trudeau, the 29-year-old creator of the daily [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , "Doonesbury," accepted her diploma and delivered the commencement address, making the first time in as long as anyone could remember than an artist, rather than a legal high pockets, had been called upon by the graduating students to address this lofty assembly. Altogether, it was a fine day for Trudeau, and, of course, for Joanie Caucus.
"I'm here today," Trudeau began, "because I've always believed in taking full responsibility for my creative decisions." He said the inspiration for Joanie Caucus was a middle-aged Connecticut housewife who, while traveling with her family one day, suddenly decided she hated her life. "So she stopped the car, crossed the road and began hitchhiking in the opposite direction," the cartoonist said. Eventually, he said, she founded a commune in Oregon where everyone lived in tepees and at last report was very happy.
Trudeau, who began drawing Doonesbury while at Yale in the late 1960s, has always been a deflater of the status quo. Many of his patchwork cast of characters smoke marijuana, live in communes, "relate" to one another without the benefit of matrimony and behave in other supposedly marginally acceptable ways. Yet they have become part of the contemporary social fabric because, above all, they believe. And one believes more deeply than Joanie Caucus.
It all began three years ago, when Trudeau had her apply for admission to Boalt. In the strip, she had already come friends with Zonker and the crowd at Walden Commune. In New left her husband and children and be-Hayen Trudeau filled out the application form, listing Caucus as a 1956 arts history graduate of Colorado College in New Haven, Conn., and included with it two letters of recommendation, one from an organization called "Uppity Women United."
"She applied to Berkeley and was sweating out her acceptance, like all applicants do," said Assistant Dean William J. Hill. "Since Trudeau had decided on Berkeley, we decided to go along with the gag."
A drawing of the ponytailed blonde first-year student graced the class yearbook, just to the right of Jacqueline Crowle, 26, "It's been fun having Joanie in our class," said Crowle, who is a member of the law school women's association. "From a woman's perspective, it's been good to have a role model. One of the association's jobs is recruiting women, and because of Joanie we've received a lot of inquiries from 'older' women wanting to start new caretrs."
But like many in the graduating class of '77, Crowle is ambivalent about all the sudden attention, and even a little defensive. "Why is everyone so excited about a woman graduating from law school?" she asks in true Joanie Caucus fashion.
"The decision to graduate Joanie was made three years ago, when we decided to admit her," Hill said. The decision to invite Trudeau was made by the graduating students. "I think many of us just found the whole situation amusing," said Wendy Hill, a third-year student. "And graduation is sort of a ridiculous occasion anywa, so you might as well do something interesting. It sure beats last year, when a woman did a double somersault on the way up to receive her diploma."
Trudeau delivered what was expected of him in his commencement address.
"Joanie: Joanie, it's me, Chuckels," he said, peering into the crowd of 500.
He then began to tell the class of soon-to-be litigators about his travel arrangements west:
"Joanie, I flew all the way from New York to be with you today. There was no movie on the airplane, and from Chicago on I had to sit next to a hysterical woman whose poodle had frozen to death in the baggage compartment. The airline tried to tell her dog had defective fur . . ."