Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Graduation this year is unfortunate. Senior proms and graduations, two of the biggest events of a young person’s life are being canceled or postponed. None the less, graduation is an important part of their life.
A friend of mine invited me to become involved in an online “Adopt a Senior” project. Basically, seniors from the local schools post their senior pictures and a bit about themselves, and hopefully somebody will “adopt” them. The idea is to do something special for these seniors to try to make up for the lost traditional opportunities. I don’t remember anything like this being done before, so with the loss of the traditions that have been available for so long, how wonderful that this graduating class gets an opportunity that nobody has had before. It’s a poor substitute, but it’s an effort.
I’ve written about my prom in a previous post, but I never wrote about graduation. In my life, I’ve only been to one of them, my high school graduation. In a class of 850 students, graduation was held in a local stadium, so it was very unfamiliar, very impersonal, and frankly not much fun. For my Bachelors degree, I had already found a job and was working full time between finishing my classes and graduation. It’s just as well. At the university, all of the colleges graduate at the same time. They march in by college into a stadium (a “University” is a collection of “Colleges”; at my university, my major was in the College of Arts and Sciences) and sat down and listened to the speakers. Then, they would call out individual colleges, have them stand, say “you’re graduated” and they would switch their tassel en masse from one side, to the other (the left means “graduated”, the right means “graduating”).
I should have attended my graduate school graduation. When you receive your doctorate there is a very different kind of ceremony called a “Hooding Ceremony”. Your primary adviser drapes a “hood” around your neck, which is closer to a scarf that hangs low on your back as opposed to an actual hood. Or, I don’t know, maybe it does look like an elongated and stretched out hood. Either way, it’s a very special ceremony that I probably should have attended, but frankly, I didn’t think anybody would actually be there for it, so it seemed like it would have been too sad for me to actually attend.
Since then, I have attended a LOT of graduations and watched thousands of my children walk across the stage. Yes, thousands. I have no kids of my own, so as a professor, every time one of my students graduated, I felt like it was one of my own children graduating.
There were not a lot of really exciting moments in the graduations I’ve seen. I’ve witnessed a few graduation speakers who were politicians, and I’ve been impressed by those who could keep politics out of their speech, and disappointed in those who could not. Some were quite humorous, some inspirational, and some were, frankly, just boring and long-winded. Right now, I can remember, oh, give me a moment to count…none of them. Not one.
Probably one of the most memorable events during a graduation involved a regent. See, every institution is “overseen” by a board of regents. These are “behind the scenes” people responsible for the direction of the institution, the quality, and they are the ones who actually authorize the conference of the degree. The stage was set up as always, four or five steps to the elevated wooden platform, painted gray, where a podium was set for the speakers. A series of chairs on either side of the podium for the president, academic vice president, the vice president of finance, the Regent, the speaker, and so forth. Behind the stadium was hung a thick curtain to hide the gym wall behind it. Unfortunately, the regent had his chair too close to the edge and FLOOP; over he went. No, he was not injured, and why we as a society laugh at the misfortune of others, always justifying our laughter by pointing out that the victim was uninjured, is something I’ll never understand. But I can tell you that at the subsequent graduations, a rear guard was always installed.
During graduations, I tried to clap for each of the graduates. In my high school graduation, there were graduates that, as soon as their name was called, would walk up to a boisterous, loud and uproarious applause from the back of the room from their friends, loved ones and family. When my name was called, there was nothing, save a few chuckles after an uncomfortable silence. It just didn’t seem right. Every graduation I’ve been to the speakers would call to hold applause until all of the names had been called, but the viewers never heeded this call.
So, for the graduating class of 2020, here is my applause for you. You did it. You won’t get the ceremony it deserves, or it will be postponed, but that doesn’t dampen your accomplishment, nor does it darken your future. Congratulations!