Monday, February 04, 2008

Unceremonious

One of my senior grad students is under pressure from his parents to finish his thesis in time to participate in the spring graduation ceremony. As it turns out, the university doesn't really care if all the official paperwork is done by graduation ceremony time. They will let pretty much anyone put on the silly gowns and caps and march around and listen to speeches, so I think it will work out just fine for him to enjoy the day with his family, even if his thesis is not completely finished.

My student is nicer than I am. He says he doesn't care about the ceremony, but he will do it if his parents really want him to. I had zero interest in my own grad school graduation ceremony, and did not attend. I think it is fine if someone wants to though. After years of very hard work, if you want to put on the academic robes and be part of a ceremony, go for it.

The two graduation ceremonies I have attended were somewhat stressful, although there were enjoyable aspects as well. In high school, I was the valedictorian of my class, and by tradition, the #1 student gives a speech at graduation and at one other end-of-year function, and is the m.c. of the school awards ceremony. I don't know if a female student had ever done this before or if the school administrators were lacking confidence in me in particular, but they were quite anxious about my having such a major role in these festivities. The principal had a private chat with me to try to convince me that someone else should take on these roles in my place because it was very important that the speeches be done well. Unfortunately for the principal, the top 11 students in my graduating class were female. When he told me that his preferred alternative to me was not one of the many outgoing, bright, and articulate girls he could have selected but instead a smart but goofy male student (#12 in the class), I got mad. So I said I was going to give the speeches, in accord with tradition. I endured a lot of "Are you sure you can do this?" from various school administrators in the weeks leading up to the events, but I did the speeches, they were no more or less boring or profound than any other graduation speeches, and the principal later apologized for doubting me.

My college graduation experience was strange in a different way. For any reader out there who has a shred of doubt remaining as to whether my life is more bizarre than is typical, this should blast away any remaining uncertainty. In fact, I think I've mentioned this incident briefly before, so will keep it short: a friend played a practical joke on me, which I sort of deserved, but which resulted in the campus and environs believing that I was associated with a controversial organization that espoused political views that were in fact quite opposite to my own. Apparently these views were also opposite to many other people's, as I soon began receiving death threats by phone and mail. The college president intervened, as did the local media and other groups, and the threats decreased. Even so, not long before graduation, I got an insidious threat that mentioned snipers waiting for me at graduation. I didn't really believe this, but the thought of snipers hiding in the ivy added an extra element of tension to my graduation ceremony, which was held outdoors.

I probably should have gone to my Ph.D. graduation ceremony. No snipers were promised, I wasn't giving any speeches, and I could have just enjoyed the excitement of being one of many people dressed absurdly and marching around. In fact, I have never regretted missing my graduate graduation, but I will support my student's effort to make his parents happy and finish his thesis in the vicinity of this spring's graduation ceremony.

6 comments:

CAE said...

I managed to escape my PhD graduation ceremony (in Scotland) through the simple measure of moving to Western Canada. Like you, I've never regretted not going. My one undergraduate ceremony was enough! (We don't do high school graduation ceremonies in the UK).

Ms.PhD said...

Wow. That story about your high school graduation is amazing. But I guess you can't take it personally if none of the other 11 girls would have been 'good enough' in their eyes. And you obviously taught them a valuable lesson.

The college one, I'm sorry, but that is not a funny practical joke.

My PhD graduation was memorable only in the sense that I have pictures to prove it happened.

I feel bad for your student. Parental pressure is a strange force in the universe.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I totally want to go to my graduation ceremony, but I hope to be properly finished with my PhD work by then. I'll invite my whole family to come too, since I''ll be the first to get an advanced degree.

You certainly do seem to have a life filled with notable experiences.

Global Girl said...

I'm going to my PhD graduation ceremony, because I will be celebrating victory over all the people at my university who are trying to stop me or discourage me or generally make my life unpleasant. I will also be celebrating being able to leave the macho engineering culture behind and start racking up frequent flyer miles working for a consulting company.

Shay said...

As I told the very nice man who was head of the grad program, I spent 21 years in the Marines wearing funny clothes and marching in lines.

I skipped the ceremony, too.

Anfa said...

I didn't want to go to my baccalaureate graduation, and my parents were livid. Growing up in the Depression, my dad was unable to go to college despite scholarship offers; he was needed to help support his family. I duly went and they threw a big party for my aunts and uncles that I didn't enjoy. Since I was the only one of my siblings to go to college, a party was mandatory.

Fast-forward 25 years; my youngest son convinced me to get an advanced degree he was himself pursuing. Four difficult and exhausting years later, I became the first in our nuclear family to achieve a doctorate (5th in the huge extended family). I went happily to celebrate the occasion with my friends and loved ones. The hooding ceremony was extremely moving and intimate. The actual graduation was large yet well-conducted. My dad was diagnosed as terminal during my studies and I did not expect him to be there, but frail as he was, he dragged himself there joyfully. When I saw him after the ceremony, I sobbed in utter relief, for which my kids still give me crap. I am the living embodiment of what he may have achieved under different circumstances.
I understand the family's need to mark this milestone; they don't understand the crap and scut work the student endures that makes the college hoopla less endearing. They need the visual images of achievement more than the student does.

I was glad to have the special moments with my friends, even though the dean made a rude and uncalled for comment to me on the stage. After the ceremony, I took my four kids and a close friend out to lunch, and we had a wonderful time. Then the next day I threw a kegger. One is never too old for a kegger.:)