cap & gownApril 3, 2007
I have in my possession my graduation cap, gown and tassel.
To call the feeling surreal, anticipatory, would be an understatement. The symbols of the transition into…. well, away from college are sitting in the floor of my room. I could pull them out and try them on. I won’t, out of some irrational fear or respect for the symbols and the ritual, but the idea has crossed my mind.
I remember in high school being very bitter about the graduation ceremony. There was something contained in the prescribed motions that I felt to be demeaning, unnecessary. The lot of us, a collection of purple in the middle of a half-a-thousand parents, all waiting to shake the hand of our principal and collect the diploma case, then wait for everyone else. I didn’t think it vital. I knew I was graduating. I knew that after that two hours of sitting that I’d be able to say I was no longer a high school student. I was a high school graduate and ready to participate in the real world. Life would go on. There would be no earth-breaking if I didn’t “walk.”
My best friend didn’t walk. He tried to graduate a year early through concurrent enrollment and found himself a couple hours short of the requirement, so he didn’t even technically graduate until August. He was bitter because he didn’t get to go through it with this girlfriend, which I think was the point.
However, despite my protests, I went through it, and I suppose I am glad. If not for me, then for my family, who was there to witness it. Me, the first of the grandchildren, making my way into manhood.
And now it is time for me to go again. I am eager, almost. I don’t want to be in the crowded gymnasium, hot, sweating. I don’t want to shake hands, I don’t want to do this for other people. I want to do this for me. I want to pull the tassel to the other side of my head. I want to say that I am a graduate of my university. And I will.
There is something important about the rituals of our lives. I personally have a thing for rituals. Somewhere during my college life, I came to realize how powerful the ritual is for all of us. I wish that we all had more mile-markers in our lives. All the ones we have are either more typically done after large amounts of work being accomplished (i.e., high school, college, other degrees), or marking the socio-economic status obligations of our culture (i.e. buying a car when you are old enough to be licensed).
What happened to the days when women were honored for reaching menstruation? What happened to the days when men were honored at the onset of muscle? In the past, cultures marked the survival of each other. We honored each other for simply making it through another winter without starving. We honored our farmers for good harvests, and we honored our warriors with fine feasts. Somewhere along the line, we long contact with the need to create ceremony and ritual to mark the turning days of our life.
If we returned to this state of mind, puberty would not be something to offer warnings about, so much as telling of the blessings. To change our cultural mindset about it would probably change the way we few many things, including sex and youth. The youth might become more responsible, and probably have a better idea of what sex really can do to your body, biologically speaking. Sex used to be honored, but our pro-abstinence/pro-sexual media culture has confused our bodies and minds about how to interact with each other on such a primal and necessary level.
Perhaps, if we could get back to honoring each other freely, instead of forcing us to pay through our nose for the prize of feeling honored, I might not feel so apprehensive about having this sack full of cloth in my floor.