Kish, Russell and I have made it home safely after the Northwestern graduation festivities; Richard will be home in a day or two as he enjoys the last few moments of college life. The long drive gave us the opportunity for some additional reflection on the weekend, and two additional points seem worth making.
After Friday’s rain-soaked ceremony, Kish and I were surprised and a bit critical of the Administration’s decision to have graduation outdoors, despite the threatening weather advancing from the west. After we attended Saturday’s Weinberg School graduation in the Welsh-Ryan Fieldhouse, however, we have a much better appreciation for the context of the Administration’s decision. Even with only the Weinberg School graduates and their guests in attendance, the Fieldhouse was ludicrously hot on Saturday morning, with almost no air circulation save for that caused by furious (and largely ineffective) fanning of graduation programs. It is impossible to imagine how hot it would have been if the Friday night graduation ceremony for the entire university had been moved indoors and every seat was filled with panting parents and grandparents. Confronted with that unattractive option, the decision to go ahead and have the ceremony outdoors and hope that the weather would cooperate seems much more reasonable.
I also think attending a college graduation makes the other “graduation” ceremonies we have attended seem silly. Our kids, like many other schoolchildren, went through “graduations” after fourth grade and eighth grade. At the time, and even more in retrospect, the lower school and middle school “graduations” seem like foolish contrivances that cheapen the real meaning of graduation. Perhaps those ceremonies are an outgrowth of the same suffocating, overly protective parental attitudes that require every kid who participates in an organized sport to receive a trophy, no matter how poorly they performed. The significance of trophies have been sacrificed on the altar of general “self-esteem,” and so to an extent has the significance of graduation ceremonies. Graduation from college is “graduation” in the literal sense — the student receives an academic degree — and also in the sense of the Latin root of the word, gradus, which means a step. Regardless of what the graduate may go on to do, he or she has taken an irrevocable step forward into adulthood and a career. College graduation is truly a momentous occasion, and I hope Richard and his classmates recognize its significance. (Of course, when I graduated I didn’t.)
This link will take you to an on-line newspaper report on the NU graduation. I’m sure that Northwestern officials appreciate that the story includes some comments from parents on the cost of a Northwestern education.