My daughter's graduation took all weekend — we were invited to three convocations, six receptions, and then, the actual commencement. Two of the events included music from a brass ensemble, and food was served at all the receptions, although the quality of the food was inversely proportional to the size of the reception. I lost track of how many times I heard "Pomp and Circumstance." More than 5,000 students graduated, which meant the campus was jampacked with people. At least three of the events were held in an area the size of a football field. Well, actually, it was a football field. At the commencement, the students marched in formally, in lines behind student marshals carrying flags, in an hour-long procession that reminded me so much of the Olympics that I kept expecting the voice on the loudspeaker to tell us who was favored to win the gold medal in figure skating.
At the convocation for the college of arts and sciences, family and friends sat in bleacher seats, far above the graduates who were dressed in dark blue robes. Everyone arrived early, fighting for the best parking spots, and that meant we had time to kill before the event began. When I looked down at the rows and rows of students, sitting in folding chairs on the indoor football field, I saw them with them with cell phones pressed to their ears, scanning the crowd for their families. All around me, I heard parents saying things like, "The left side? You mean my left? Stand up and wave so I can see you."
Half an hour before the convocation began, a voice over loudspeaker instructed everyone: "We ask that you turn off your cell phones at this time."
Given the choice between listening to the anonymous voice of authority or the voice of a parent on the other end of the phone, what did the students do? Naturally, they ignored the anonymous voice. Students continued to pop up, on cue, to wave at Mom or Dad. I heard delighted murmurs around me, "There she is!" or "I see him now!" To the students' credit, they did silence their cell phones as soon as the event began, reverting to discreet text messages such as: "oh god. please tell me they aren't going to read every name"
A few of the receptions were smaller and more personal. And the weather was sunny, so we were able to wander the campus when we had some time to kill between two receptions on Saturday afternoon. My father graduated from Snowstorm University's law school more than 50 years ago, and he kept pointing out to his granddaughter which old buildings he remembered. Occasionally, I'd chime in with what the campus looked like when I began graduate school 25 years ago. The boys had brought a frisbee with them, of course, and they entertained their grandmother with spectacular throws and catches, narrowing missing family members most of the time and on one occasion, clipping my husband by accident.
The last event of the day was a reception for the Treat 'Em Like Royalty Scholars. By that time, With-a-Why had acquired his sister's cap and gown, as well as her light blue scholarship stole and the dangling honors medal. He does love a costume. For a shy kid, he's amazingly unself-conscious, and he swished through the gathering happily, looking very much like Harry Potter. Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair, dressed in a fashion considerably more informal than anyone in the room, were equally unself-conscious. After sitting through two big convocations on uncomfortable bleacher seats, we were thankful to sit in comfy chairs and eat the fancy food provided, while around us students, parents, and deans mingled.
That's my daughter in the middle, with her grandfather on her left and With-a-Why on her right.