By 9:15 a.m. today, Betsy Morefield was nervous enough to pace, moving with small quick steps across her dormitory room at the University of Virginia's McGuffey Hall. "Where's my mother?" asked the 22-year-old graduate to be, adjusting her mortar board. "Where is she?"

Scattered in cups and baskets around the room, just out of Betsy's anxious path, were a few dozen yellow bows, the last of 4,500 or so which she and friends had tied up and distributed to today's graduates. The ribbons are a token of remembrance for her father, Richard Morefield, one of 53 Americans held hostage in Iran.

This was a day when Betsy did not want her mother to be late, a day when nothing was supposed to go wrong. For the Morefield family, the 1980 graduation ceremony here marked more than Betsy's completion of her undergraduate work in system engineering. It was, in some way, a proof of the whole family's ability to carry on.

So Betsy paced while, a little way outside of town, a state trooper was issuing a speeding ticket to the driver of the car bringing Dorothea Morefield to Betsy's graduation. In fact, between the ticket, the jammed streets of this college town, and the crush of 3,428 graduates and their admiring relatives, it was not til noon that mother and daughter finally met.

When the ceremonies began, Betsy was giving out the last of her yellow ribbons, while her mother waited outside the offices of university President Frank L. Hereford Jr., and mused a little sadly on the family milestones her husband has missed in his 196 days of captivity.

There have been three birthdays among the five Morefield children during that time: Kenneth, the youngest, is 14 now. There has been a motorcycle accident that laid up 19-year-old William for six weeks. And there was 15-year-old Steven's trip to Mexico last month, a trip cut short by news of the unsuccessful rescue mission in Iran.

"This is a bittersweet day for me," Mrs. Morefield said quietly as the academic procession began, the undulating stream of black broken by the tiny dots of yellow on almost every shoulder. "This is our first to graduate from college, and Dick's not here to see it."

She paused. "Our 25th wedding anniversary's coming up in July," she said. Then, half to herself, "That'll really hurt."

For now, she concentrates on meeting her primary goal: keeping the children at their studies and their work, and keeping the hostages themselves in the forefront of the public's consciousness.

In this latter pursuit, Mrs. Morefield finds herself giving speeches, TV interviews and press conferences about twice weekly, usually to audiences near her San Diego home. In the past six months, this attention has turned her -- like several other hostages' relatives -- into a national symbol of international strife.

"I don't mind that," said Mrs. Morefield, who took a detour on her way here from San Diego, stopping in Palo Alto, Calif., for two days to discuss the hostage crisis with a group of California and Nevada newspaper editors.

"What I don't like," she said, "is being recognized on the street. I was in the supermarket a few weeks ago when this woman looks over and yells, in a booming voice, 'Mrs. Morefield, Mrs. Morefield, I want to pray with you.'

"She runs over and she grabs my hand and starts to pray in the same booming voice. Right in the middle of the supermarket. I was so embarrassed." A pause. "But I don't mind it so much when people come up and say, 'We're praying for you.'"

Several people came up and said just that to her this morning, as she made her way to a reserved seat in front of the massive convocation of graduates, families and faculty. In the midst of it all was the gray statue of Homer, a yellow ribbon draped around its shoulders.

"Everybody seems to be wearing them," Mrs. Morefield said, looking out at the crowd and trying to catch a glimpse of the mortarboards with orange tassels, the ones worn by Betsy and her fellow engineering graduates.

The lawn was too vast. Betsy was hidden among too many people wearing too much academic regalia. So for her mother, the main ceremony, with its speech by Charles Lee Brown, president of American Telephone and Telegraph Co., was both impressive and a little impersonal.

When it was over, a tired looking Dorothea Morefield, limping slightly from a newly formed blister on her left heel, made her way to Thornton Hall, where the engineering graduates would actually receive their degrees.

It was there, in the lobby, that she and Betsy finally met. At the sight of her mother, Betsy broke out of her procession for a long moment's hug, then scampered back among the other graduates, clutching at the headgear knocked askew by her greeting.

"I'm so glad you made it," Betsy said to her mother. "I was so worried. I'm so glad you could come." In response, her mother just hugged.

The final ceremonies took comparatively little time. About two-thirds of the way through the distribution of 347 engineering degrees, a dean called out "Elizabeth Fredericka Morefield," and Betsy went forward to collect her diploma.

On the other side of a large magnolia tree, Mrs. Morefield took out a Kleenex, raised her glasses, and dabbed quickly at her eyes.

Then, after a few private moments of congratulation between mother, daughter and family friends, it was time for another press conference. The two women sat in front of a blackboard and answered more questions about the meaning of the yellow ribbons and what it feels like for a family to settle in for an indefinite wait.

"The news of Iran is all out of the public eye now," Mrs. Morefield observed her tone neither praising nor condemning. "It's all relegated to the back pages these days."