Pomp and Circumstance
At my high school graduation in 1995, I had a captive audience of 425 graduating students below me on the Santa Fe High School football field, and all their parents and families packed into the bleachers. Around 2,000 people, I’d wager. As senior class president, I was the first student to speak at my Commencement. It was a two to five-minute welcome where I could say a few words of wisdom, then introduce the superintendent of schools. Prayers weren’t permitted, so I called for a moment of silence. I then said something about To Thine Ownself be True. I was so smart back then, so rebellious and cool.
There’s a cohort of young relatives in my family all graduating from high school this year, and I’ve sat in on two Commencements thus far. Like my own half-hearted attempt to sound learned over 20 years ago, the class presidents, valedictorians, and salutatorians of today are no different. With roughly 18 years behind them, they can impart only so much knowledge. The speeches have been mostly whatever: do what you feel, and if you don’t feel anything, that’s okay. Do that absence-of-feeling thing as best you can. You have to love those kids for trying, though. They’re trying on giving speeches the way they tried on the act of speech itself as budding toddlers. I see my own kids’ self-conscious attempts at words on the regular, and it’s cute as hell. I can only imagine the Commencement speeches of the future.
It’s June of the year 2031. My eldest son is graduating from high school, and I applaud his college of arts for upholding the tradition of a Commencement ceremony. They don’t have to gather us all up like this so the youngsters can walk across the stage. Most schools don’t do it anymore. At most schools, your Validated Completion simply comes across your mobile as a big green checkmark emoji. CONGRATS! But my sons’ school is different. We chose this institution because they do things like have a graduation ceremony, dances, and sports banquets. We could all be doing something more productive, moving on to the next thing, but this ritual feels right and good. It’s a rite of passage so few young people get to enjoy anymore. I’m about to hear my son deliver his speech on living in the moment. That seems to be the theme these days.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.