Friday, May 13, 2011

Momentous Occasion

They call it commencement because “this is just the beginning.” And that’s great, our linear conception of time and mild sense of irony likes to exploit those so-called witty remarks built into the tradition of ceremonies like my graduation.

So for those of you who cannot make it to the graduation ceremony I will describe it in detail, reconstructed from the bits I remember about last year’s ceremony. It will be held in Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC); it is an enormous space that houses a lot of people. You will awkwardly sit near an elderly couple that you vaguely know because their kid’s friend is friends with your friend/child/grandchild/niece/third cousin. You will try to make small talk but every time you do it becomes more apparent that the people sitting next to you are either racist/homophobic or just plain dumb. It will suddenly become overcast and extraordinarily humid. You will suddenly realize that you have pit stains and nipple sweat stains that have seeped through your ‘nice’ shirt. You will smell the baby in front of you. The baby is getting progressively more disgruntled and noisy as the smell of baby formula also becomes more pungent. And then the ceremony will start.

You will stand for the first time. But not the last time. As men in skirts march slowly down the aisles playing dying cats you will wonder why there is a unicorn on the flag that isn’t the American flag. That’s right, Skidmore’s crest has a unicorn on it—my liberal arts education is totally practical, as evidenced by the mythical creature gracing its very yellow emblem. Then you will hear speeches.

The president will speak. He’ll be funny but kind of awkward. Then one of our deans will speak. She will speak with a lot of dignity and poise; you will be nudged awake when the Student officers speak next. You will be amazed at how many in-jokes can fit into 5 minutes of speech. Then honorary degrees are conferred. They are old people who did not party with us in the dorms freshman year; they would have gotten the full thing if that were the case. Then our big speaker will come up. It is now pouring outside, but thank God that you got there early enough to grab a seat inside. He will tell the sea of people in oversized black dresses and identical hats, “to be yourselves.” This is all part of the irony that commencement insists upon. Don’t worry he gets it too, he just doesn’t have enough time to speak with more substance.

Now is about the time that you really have to go to the bathroom. But first you have to endure over 600 names being called out. They will all be pronounced correctly because each card has a guide by the name. It is the least courtesy that $50,000/year could provide. Oh, but if you want a water, there are vendors selling Saratoga Water for five bucks a pop by the entrances. As each name gets called out, certain sections of the crowd will get really loud suddenly. It is still a popularity contest even though it should be about education—sorry for those of you who thought the real world was based in merit. Your hands will be numb and red, but at least you aren’t thinking about the sweat running down your back anymore. Your legs are now starting to ache from standing for so long, a bad move by that one guy in the front row who decided to stand early on, and everyone behind him who stood as well just so they could see the stage. You were one of those people. You will recognize precisely four names.

And after, in the mist (thank God it’s just mist and not the heavy rain that there was an hour ago when they started calling names), you will find your graduate and hug him/her and congratulate him/her on the success. He/she will promptly abandon you because they found another friend who is screaming and crying because “it’s the last time—ever! Oh my God! I’m so happy and sad!” You will anxiously search for a bathroom, only to find that they are all occupied with lines stretching on into infinity. It will be great.

The better news is that no one has to miss out on this experience this year. If anyone has four hours to spare on May 21st, Skidmore’s commencement ceremonies will be simulcast on the internets. I’ll post the link as soon as I know.