You May Now Move the Tassel

A university graduation ceremony is a choreographed performance. Each time we bring the ritual to life, the underlying text is refined even more. The scripts are tightened yet again and the procedures and moves and cues updated in an endless exercise in Platonism, forever trying to match the ideal, abstract commencement that exists on some higher level always beyond our reach.

Some things never change:

-Pockets of families and friends scattered around the cavernous space erupt in moments of celebration when the name of their person is read.  I never get tired of seeing these displays of love and enthusiasm.  Bless them.
-However, it is really hard not to become a cynical critic of footwear choices made by graduates.
-Somewhere in the crowd someone is delivering an impromptu lecture of outrage about the stunning disregard for regalia protocol.
-Audience members today are mostly oblivious to the tradition of standing when graduates enter the space. (Yet another opportunity for a spontaneous lecture about the decline of civilization.)
-It is really hot under those gowns. Suddenly, the young man who decided to make a statement by wearing shorts (hopefully) and flip flops under his gown seems wise beyond his years.

I have heard dozens and dozens (at least) of graduation speeches, speeches delivered by students and faculty and administrators and distinguished alumni and business leaders and donors and potential donors. Most of them dissolve into a forgotten mist, but a few moments are fixed in my memory:

-A state department of education official delivering a version of Dr. Suess re-crafted for the event.
-A provost’s description of gathering up all of her siblings’ college diplomas to copy and assemble into a single framed showpiece as a present for their parents.
-A veterinarian who somehow made artificial insemination a relevant detail in a speech for future teachers.

Sometimes we have commencements in December (or even August), but the gods who created graduation always intended for this to be a spring ritual to echo the transformative explosion of new life and fresh possibilities of the season.

Graduation is part of the life cycle of spring, something like the beginning of the baseball season. So to quote the greatest baseball movie of all time, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

The best graduation ceremony is always indoors.

“Think about that for awhile.”


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