My parents made me come home from college to participate in my high school graduation ceremony. I’d finished high school a semester early so I could dive into college life, and the thought of getting on a train and heading home for a stupid ceremony commemorating a milestone I’d passed a month earlier really annoyed me. I went, of course, striding across the John Hersey High School auditorium stage on a snowy January night in 1977. I went because my parents insisted. The whole thing seemed pointless. Why did I need to pause my my new life as a college student so I could march across a stage in a ghoulish black robe and hideous piece of headgear that steamrolled my mini-Afro?
That’s what almost all high school students say. (OK, maybe not the ones who don’t sport a Mod Squad hairstyle. And if you have to ask what Mod Squad is, you probably don’t have the `do.) Many college students, especially at large state-run schools, stay away from their graduation ceremonies in large numbers.
When Bill got his Masters’ degree a couple of years ago, I had a bit of an “ah ha!” about the importance of these ritualized rite-of-passage events in our lives. Every person at graduation – the professors, the administrators, the friends and families, and the students themselves – came to honor something bigger than ourselves, and bigger than the individual lives of any one of them. Each one had completed an expensive, difficult goal. All of them had completed the goal at the same place and time. I realized that the stiff, starchy corporate ceremony emphasized the impact of each individual’s accomplishments. Hearing Bill’s name read and seeing him cross the stage to receive his (empty) diploma (case) was one of the nicest moments of my life to date. It was a surprise to discover such joy inside what I’d always thought of as a dry ritual.
Our son Ben graduated from North Park University this weekend, magna cum laude in both Creative Writing and Philosophy. He could have handed us his transcript and we would have been extremely proud of him. But seeing him garbed in his gown, mortarboard and gold honors tassels hallowed the moment for us in a completely different way. It was another of the most joyous moments of my life.