Though considered a sentimental rite of passage, graduation more accurately resembles a series of trials — for all involved. Other societies require sticking one’s hand into a glove full of tropical ants or running naked across a herd of cows’ backs. Still, few match the demands of a contemporary American graduation, where we face:
Trial by Speeches. Graduation requires that half the addresses be delivered by people who never make speeches.
Graduates’ talks — generally an exception — are thoughtful and well-practiced, thanks to parents’ and teachers’ threats.
Academic speakers, however, often push listeners to the breaking point. Perhaps the researcher who spoke at my son’s graduation had studied disembodied brains so long she forgot how to connect with those still residing in humans.
If graduates misbehave, the graduation gods will press a button, ejecting them onto Neptune without diplomas. So students Super-Glue their eyelids open. They ready socks to stuff into mouths that issue inappropriate comments or snores. Friends don’t let friends snore during graduation speeches.
Proponents support this polite façade because graduates learn the hypocrisy necessary to keep a job.
The opposition claims such courtesy perpetuates poor speeches. If listeners shot Super Soakers at a sleep-inducing windbag, quality would climb considerably.
Trial by Wardrobe. If aliens attended a graduation, they might conclude the assembly was undergoing mass penance. Suits, ties, high heels, body shapers and control-top pantyhose abound. Graduation gowns trap heat when dry and disintegrate into goo during rainy processionals.
Mortarboards, true to their name, work well for bricklayers. They should not be imposed on human heads. No woman’s hairdo in the history of western civilization has survived the ordeal.
Trial by Music. After 96 repeats of “Pomp and Circumstance,” even the composer might ban the tune forever.
Also, no one ever knows the words to a school’s alma mater. Tunes, however, seem familiar, since many alma maters are based on Cornell University’s “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters” — which borrowed its melody from a song about someone dying of tuberculosis.
No wonder we are moved to tears as, struggling to read the program’s print, we warble:
Glory to thy bricks and ivy,
Airy halls of light and truth.
We leave behind thy golden towers,
Built by our bank accounts, forsooth.
Or something like that.
Trial by Smile. Graduates must hug hitherto unknown relatives. This is good practice for their weddings.
Yes, the bravest students, families and friends must endure this rite of passage known as graduation.
And we wouldn’t miss it for the world.