Renee Alice Riley-Adams, otherwise known by her initials "RaRa," celebrated her graduation from life-coach school on Saturday in the most unusual way: For once, she followed tradition.
In a purple cap and gown with a bright-orange stole, she swayed to the sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance" as she passed by applauding family members and friends lining the long driveway of her Ashland home.
Riley-Adams, 53, never participated in her previous graduation ceremonies.
Not at Los Altos High in California, because she had been kicked out of her mother's house when she was a sophomore. She later received her diploma without ceremony while living with her dad in Victoria, British Columbia
Instead of walking with her class after she earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of British Columbia, she took a motorcycle trip across Canada and Europe.
Years later, she completed 12 pre-nursing courses at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md., in the hopes of becoming a nurse-midwife. Again, no hoopla.
Yet this time, she embraced the activity — as she does other parts of her life — with a fun-loving twist.
She called the event a "Rooted RaRa Celebration." She asked partygoers to wear her favorite colors, purple and orange. And she planned to pull a Radio Flyer wagon behind her as a muffled CD player pumped out the first few "Daaa da-da daaa da" notes of the classic graduation march.
Then, something unexpected occurred. Her husband, author James Adams, surprised her by having a 28-piece orchestra play the customary graduation song.
When she arrived as a passenger in her SUV with its personalized "RaRa" license plates, her husband signaled the conductor, adjusted her mortar board and turned her to face the cheering crowd.
It was a day to remember for Riley-Adams, whose new job is to help people manage their unpredictable lives in a positive way. She is now one of about 100 life coaches, therapists and counselors in Ashland.
A handful of other Ashland residents have received professional coaching certificates similar to Riley-Adams' from New Ventures West in San Francisco, which is accredited by the International Coach Federation.
Over the years, friends have thanked the energetic redhead for her positive outlook and good advice. People have repaid her with jewelry and other services for her time and guidance.
Now, she has a business, Balanced Life Coaching, an office with purple-and-orange décor and paying clients.
At her party, she thanked her clients, spread among the group. Pointing with a purple-polished fingernail to no one in particular, she joked, "In the interest of confidentiality, I won't call out your name or ask you to line up."
Still, some people came forward to say how Riley-Adams has helped them develop the capacity to handle a situation more effectively, prioritize based on their values and work on the skill of saying no.
One of her favorite suggestions is to deliver a "no sandwich," in which a sentence begins with a compliment, followed by saying "no" to the offer, then ending with another compliment.
The newly minted graduate also heard praise from her family.
Daughters Ella, 21, and Grace, 20, said they have taught their friends lessons from the mythical "Book of RaRa" — unwritten advice based on Riley-Adams' two decades of being a facilitator, mediator, mentor, partner and parent.
Her husband of 23 years reminded the group that Riley-Adams sets her year's goals in three words.
Last year, the words were "integrated," "professional" and "slow." This year, they are "rooted," "clarity" and "sweetness."
"The three words I would use to describe Renee are 'courage,' 'compassion,' 'connection,' " said James Adams, who moved his family here in 2001 from Washington, D.C., after hearing an economist say that Ashland was a good place to live.
"We wanted community, connection and cappuccino," Riley-Adams said in her three-word style.
Chris Mole, a graphic designer and friend, later commented to Riley-Adams: "It's a rare counselor, therapist or coach who has nurtured a supportive, loving, healthy family and marriage, and this is truly a gift to your clients."
Sentimental and tearful, RaRa listened when her husband said she can have a meaningful conversation with a stranger.
"Just ask anyone who has sat next to her on a plane," he said.
Smiling, she shrugged, then interjected: "People are like Christmas presents. They just want to be opened up."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org