Saturday, August 04, 2007

Blogging Graduation

It's summer graduation time. I've read some bloggers who assert that all profs should go to their students' graduation ceremonies. We have three graduation days a year, the summer and winter ones have two ceremonies on the day (for different colleges). No thanks. And yet I do recognize that from the other side, graduation's important to the graduates, and probably even more to their families. Here at NWU, faculty folk can go to any graduation, but our departments are expected to send two representatives to graduation each term. Today was my turn.

So I thought it might be interesting to blog the graduation. Sort of. I didn't actually carry a laptop into the ceremony, but here I am, program in hand, recreating the experience, thrill by thrill.

8:50 am. After the shower and caffeine, my morning begins with getting to campus. I try to arrive early enough to get a parking space nearish my office, that is, well before the graduates and their families. I needn't have worried about that today, as I'll explain. I check my email. Apparently I've won a UK lottery AND someone in Burkino Faso has left me several million dollars. I decide not to resign until I actually see the checks.

I keep my gown hanging on my office door; I think there's some official rule about that. Underneath, well, let's just say I'm not Ms. Formality. Let's just admit that the rayon gowns would be adequate wear in sub-zero temperatures all on their own. They're nasty. I try to choose innocuous sandals. Well, I would if I had any innocuous sandals. Instead, I wear Tevas and hope no one looks down.

9:00 am. Gown on (not zipped), tam on, carry hood, and we're walking across the street to the next building over, Northwoods Gym. Seriously, we need a better space for ceremonial stuff than the gym, but the gym it is. They put the basketball things up, pull out the bleachers, and turn on the air blower. It's not an air conditioner, just a thing that moves air around a bit and makes a noise not unlike Darth Vader with an asthma attack. And anyone who moves a muscle on the bleachers causes a resounding echo.

Before the prof parade, the faculty are supposed to gather in a classroom in a wing of the gym building.

9:05 am. We stand around and adjust gowns, hoods and tams. The three things are supposed to be worn together, but by golly, they're poorly designed. You see, hoods are fairly heavy things, made of velvet and rayon, and long enough that you WILL sit on them, and they hang down your back. And ride up the front of your neck, making for a less than comfy fit.

In order to prevent discomfort, hoods tend to come with a thread or loop of thread in the front. Traditionally, one was supposed to hook the look down around a dress shirt button, slightly displacing one's tie in the process. Traditionally, of course, one was supposed to be male, wear a dress shirt and a tie. Maybe the loop thing worked that way. Those of us who aren't traditional in whatever way have to come up with other solutions. My Mom sewed some buttons onto the inside front of my gown, so that I can loop the loop there. This works pretty well, though over time the whole gown tends to get pulled up into a sort of choking position if you're standing long enough.

9:10 am. We continue standing around, trying to figure out how to make the velvet part of the hood hang properly without falling off our shoulders. No one ever seems to know how these things work.

Big Man on Campus oils his way around the room. I admire several gowns. People with mortarboards envy those with tams. Those with tams try to get just the right jaunty angle. Like we're going to look cool.

9:25 am. BMoC gives us a pep talk and and points out that they've provided donuts and juice in the corner. I hadn't noticed them, and no one was eating them. Let's think: a bunch of clutzy nerds in expensive clothing that would need dry cleaning if it got dirty. Just as well we stay away from the spillage potential. Why can't they have even minimally healthy stuff? And coffee? I didn't have enough caffeine. It's late to try for a sugar high now, I suppose.

9:30 am. The ceremony is supposed to begin. The marshals tell us that they're going to help us line up shortly. Years and years of college and graduate education in this crowd, and we're basically getting help with kindergarten skills. At least they don't make us all hang onto a rope with loops. I should be grateful.

9:40 am. We're lined up. I hear Pomp and Circumstance in the offing, and we're walking, walking. I never know where to put my hands. I usually hold them behind me, under the hood. My sleeves are way too poofy because the gold piping makes them sort of stiff. Yes, gold piping. We're walking. Should we look straight ahead? Look at the people looking at us? I'm a goof; I give everyone a big ol' Bardiac smile. After all, it's a big day, and I can do that smile thing.

And we're walking, and the gym is mostly empty. I guess not many people are doing the ceremonial thing this morning. The emptiness makes the Darth Vader asthma machine sound even louder. Faculty numbers pretty much equal grad numbers. They've never seen such a good faculty to student ratio in their careers here. Oh well.

And we're walking. Fortunately, walking in time to music wasn't part of my tenure file requirements. Neither, apparently, was filing into rows of chairs which were not designed with two foot diameter poofy sleeves in mind. We file in and stand.

9:50 am. The National Anthem. I'm always confused about the hat issue. In the not so old days, men took off their hats when they entered a building, but women didn't, since there were all those hat pins and things. We don't take off our tams or mortarboards entering a building, but do we for the Anthem? I do. No hairpins here. I'm an equal opportunity tam doffer.

A faculty member leads the singing. He's good! Once again, I'm reminded that my singing voice has a remarkable range of perhaps three notes. I should just mouth the words, but I actually like the story behind the song, so there.

I notice yet again what a horrible ceremonial space we're in. Ugh.

9:55 am. And we're off! We get to sit down, and the Campus Big Shots start talking. The gist of every comment is basically that our new alums should support NWU as much as they can, in whatever ways they can: money, get an internship for a current student, do something for the campus, and come to homecoming.

Awards are given. Who are these people? Do we award these awards at every graduation, three times a year? Or do we do different awards at different times of the year. I guess I should have paid attention better in the past.

And why are these people wearing doctoral gowns and hoods? Are we awarding honorary doctorates (I don't think so?) or do we just have a couple extra gowns and hoods hanging around the public relations office for this sort of thing? (The faculty person next to me tries to figure out what the brown hood color stands for. Business, and it's called "drab." I hate that I know that. I realize that the faculty member next to me seems to have had tuna for breakfast. I hate that I know that, too.)

10:15 am. The speaker. I pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I never have to do a graduation speech because there's NOTHING new to say. You're supposed to say something meaningful, but there's nothing you can say that's really going to do the job. Or not. At my undergrad ceremony, the speaker talked about how high unemployment was and what a fine time to go to grad school. Yeah, inspiring.

10:18 am. Did the speaker actually say the stupid thing I thought she said? I'm shamed that this is our speaker.

10:30 am. Music! Except without the exclamation point. Why do they always choose such dismal music for graduation ceremonies? Would it hurt do have a little something happening melody-wise? I'm not asking for the latest rap or something. Really, I'd be thrilled with a Bach fugue! The loudness of the air machine doesn't actually mean that it's effective, and the rayon gown is hot. So much for having a green campus, eh?

10:35 am. It's graduation time! They move their tassles. Students walk across the stage to get their hands shaken by various big shots and pick up a cardboard folder with a certificate that says says they've participated in the ceremony. First one college. Holy cow! Is that my advisee who's been suspended? What the heck? (I was going to try to remember to check her file after the ceremony, but I forgot. Because having no power in such things makes me not care a lot.)

Then another college, and another. The velvet facing on my gown is really soft. Then the grad students march across and get their hoods. Hoodies. Heh. The faculty person next to me asks about the light blue hoods. Education. Any other questions? I'm quietly grateful to have a dark blue hood (Philosophy). I look better in dark colors. Not that I look good in any colors, but there I go.

10:45 am. The student speaker. Did I mention the softness of the velvet facing? He's using a maudlin pop song as a theme. I'm going out to lunch with an alum from a couple years ago. I wonder how she's doing?

10:50 am. We sing the school song thing. It's more dirge-like than not. I don't know the words, and can't see to read them well enough without digging out my reading glasses. I never learned the words to my own college song, either. I'm just that sort of lame person. My school had a drinking song. Not that I knew it, of course. I wonder if our students have a drinking song to sing? They can't sound worse than people at my school did with ours.

10:55 am. Campus official words, instructions for the recessional, more Pomp and Circumstance, and we're walking! Walking!

Once out of the building, I realize it's starting to rain, and I sprint across the street to keep my gown from getting wet. Freedom! hey-day! hey-day, freedom! freedom, hey-day, freedom!

1 comment:

  1. LOVE this.

    I've noticed the beginnings of a tam rebellion, lately. It began with folks taking them off for the opening invocation (we don't do the anthem) and then not putting them back on again for the rest of the ceremony. Then a few people just didn't wear them at all, and each time I notice there are a few more people that come in without them. I'm hesitant to stand out as a person not wearing a tam, but any small step towards making those two hours marginally more bearable would be welcome indeed. Last time I just carried mine the entire time (in case I had the sudden guilty urge to put it on), but I think next time I'm going to leave the damned thing in my office.