Panic set in. I’ve never really been one to shy away from public displays of awkward hilarity. In fact, I relish it. But there are some important differences between goofing around on playground equipment while out on a run with friends (Exhibit A), and obnoxiously cheering for a friend in the company of strangers (Exhibit B). Namely, several thousand strangers. Screwing around with your friends is one thing. Doing so in the company of unknowns is another, especially when said unknowns include screaming infants, ultra-protective parents, marginalized aunts and uncles, and barely cognizant grandparents. As James sauntered along, I asked the group about the apparent lack of overt enthusiasm. Their answer? “Welcome to New England.”
Already the outsider, my friends’ response immediately recalled horrific images of Puritan-era American history from my high school and college days. Witch hunts? Scarlet letters? Hats with buckles? No way in hell I’d allow myself to be Hester Prynne-ed. Besides, being loud and proud couldn’t possibly hurt anyone’s sensibilities that much. Everybody there was stuck in the same boring boat: commencement.
Graduation’s a funny thing. Take several hundred students, faculty, and administrators, times that number by a factor of five (at least) to generate a rough guestimate for family and friends in attendance, and pack ’em all into a confined space for several hours’ worth of awkward public speaking, limp handshakes, and diploma IOUs. Whether the venue’s in or out of doors doesn’t matter. What does is that all in attendance will lose a Friday evening or Saturday morning from their lives.
Four (or more) years of
intense study hard work scraping by finds its ultimate celebratory chorus in a four hour long circle jerk. The majority of the graduates are either (a) hungover, (b) still drunk, (c) contemplating drink, or (d) all of the above. Friends and family members simply want to applaud their graduate for his or her achievement, move on to the bar at dinner or brunch afterwards, and go home. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. After all, I’ve sat through two of my own and a handful of others for friends and family. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them. In fact, kudos to them and to the graduates they celebrate. They’re just boring.
Consider the commencement speaker. He or she’s always a bit of a gimmick. Take Stephen Colbert’s remarks to the graduating class of 2011 at Northwestern University: “But I am not here to talk about me. I am here to inspire you—by talking about me.” Now we’re getting all meta. What better way to celebrate the momentous achievement of a college degree than by listening to someone talk about his or her own achievements in a manner that’s not only highly egotistical, but also bears little (if any) resemblance to the individual lives of the graduates. God bless ‘Mericuh.
Then again, everyone else on the other side of the podium cannot escape censure. A few minutes in to the Middlesex speech, I noticed a sea of screens come alive with text messages, social media, and various gaming apps. Even a few of the administrators on stage were nonchalantly checking their iPhones and Androids. Then again, the only reason I realized any of this was because I’d taken a short break from Words With Friends to see if I’d missed anything important. Also, I was stuck on a word and contemplating a cheat.
Ranting aside, James’ walk across the stage was imminent but my apprehension remained. What the hell was I about to do? How big would the red letter “A” (for “asshole”) be on my person after the mobs were done with us? How much pain could I endure as a result of being tarred and feathered? Oh well. James’ name was called then, effectively ending my worried internal wanderings. We exploded from our seats in a cavalcade of heckles and hollers. The cowbells wrung viciously in my hands, rubbing the spaces between my fingers raw. True to form, the entire auditorium turned towards us and stared us down. But we didn’t care: James was all smiles as he crossed the stage and we felt that our screams of support were partly responsible for this.
It wasn’t until later that night that, when out for drinks to celebrate his incredible accomplishment, James admitted to us all that he hadn’t heard us. Not a peep. Oh well. So much for our ego-driven cheering section.
Congrats, graduates of 2013. Good luck out there.