I learned a lot about graduation ceremonies this week, beyond the fact that they’re long and boring. Or maybe I learned less about the ceremonies and more about me. On Sunday and Monday, I attended my first two graduations — one for a friend and one for myself — since my own high school commencement many years ago.
Sunday found me in the bleachers of a former basketball stadium waiting for more than a thousand Seattle University graduates to flip the tassels on their caps (a signal that their degrees have been formally conferred on them) from the right to the left. I came to honor a young man who overcame tremendous obstacles to earn a college degree, and his parents who made great sacrifices to support him. I met him when he was a ninth-grader in our public school system, where, despite poverty, lack of English fluency and no immigration papers, he worked almost singlehandedly to give the support his Spanish-speaking peers needed to graduate from high school, while at the same time he completed the coursework and tests required to earn an International Baccalaureate Diploma. This school year he gained legal status, completed his BA Degree, was recognized for many of his endeavors at the university and has started a job. He was one of three students invited to come to the stage Sunday to receive a special “outstanding service award.” He made his parents and the three of us he calls his ‘other moms’ very proud.
Last evening I attended my graduation ceremony — also in a basketball stadium — after completing the year-long University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education program, Popular Fiction 1. This graduation didn’t differ much from the one I attended the day before, except for the size of the graduating class. I was there with graduates of nearly one hundred curriculums that included Digital Forensics, Audio Production and Wetland Management. Given the range of educational offerings and the absence of caps and gowns, no two groups dressed alike. The construction managers wore hard hats, the fashion designers, feather boas, and the non-profit managers, golden halos.
Why was I there? Since I had stayed away from my bachelor’s and master’s degree ceremonies, I wanted to experience my first higher education graduation, but on a smaller scale than the normal undergraduate and graduate school events. I also took pride in completing the course. As soon as I sat down at the end of row seventeen, I knew I didn’t need to be there. Nothing was going to be better or different for having come to a graduation. What was important was the experience of the last school year: a good teacher, helpful classmates, useful homework, and the work of writing itself. I thought back to a quote from my recent blog on happiness: ” It turns out the rewards we get for learning and understanding the workings of the world really make it the journey, not the destination, that matters most.” I realized that neither walking across a stage, having my name called and shaking someone’s hand, or receiving a piece of paper in the mail in a few weeks made a difference.
When the event was over, my husband and I had grabbed our glasses of lemonade, and had headed back to the car, he said, “This really confirms that I made a good decision to stay home from my graduation. I don’t even want to think about how bad this would have been with five thousand graduates.”