Pompous and Circus

To walk or not to walk, that is the question. Or is it?

Thousands of students, maybe millions, will take their last exams, write their last paper, turn in their old or resalable books and graduate this spring. "Graduation is a ritual or ceremony that marks one stage of a person's life to another," according to brownielocks.com. But let's face it: No matter how important or hugely significant graduation is, the ceremony itself is typically long and boring—especially if you're not the graduate—and for some, it can be quite costly.

While graduating is monumental, walking in the ceremony can be the physical way to reassure yourself that you actually did accomplish something. Wearing all the regalia furthers the feeling of "I've done something important." And it feels so good when you can prove to your parents that in the midst of all your fun and wild times, you really did manage to graduate. Of course, it's certainly icing on the cake when you're the focus of all that flash photography.

If you really want to consider your family, though, other questions might arise: Do my parents, who have already paid out thousands for my education, want to sit through a long ceremony? Do they want to listen to a boring speaker drone on about my future? Will it be exciting watching hundreds of other students receive their diplomas? Is it fiscally responsible to burden them with the additional cost of a cap and gown? Do they want to pay for a hotel stay (which usually requires a minimum of two nights, because college towns know parents are going to come to graduation, so why not take advantage of them)?

And most importantly, do I want to spend another day here?

I graduated twice, and both times I participated in the ceremonies. I made sure I walked after graduating college. My dad didn't think I could finish after I got married and had a baby. He threw down the, "You'll never graduate now" gauntlet, and I wasn't about to lose. So, like the thoughtful daughter I was, I chose to walk, forcing him to drive up to Mississippi State to watch. I wanted to revel in my victory.

Funny thing: My dad volunteered to babysit his new granddaughter that day. I think it was the only time he babysat—anything to get out of that long ceremony.

Looking back, when I returned to MSU's campus to participate in that spring ceremony (I had actually finished in December) was when I must have cursed my future. In my failed attempt to have dear old dad watch me walk, I have now experienced the joy of getting to sit through three of my husband's graduations. I wasn't in the picture for his high school and under-graduate degree walks. But since those earlier two, the hubby has gone on to acquire three more degrees.

Sitting on a plush, green lawn in Atlanta, I watched my man graduate from the Chandler School of Theology at Emory University, followed by a worship service inside its chapel—two ceremonies for the price of one. His second master's degree was from Mississippi College.

I sat out in the bleachers and watched Bernie Ebbers—co-founder and CEO of WorldCom, who is now serving a 25-year sentence in a Louisiana prison for fraud—give his rendition of a motivational speech to the graduates. I hope they weren't paying too close attention.

For his fourth and final degree (and I say "final" lightly; if there is a fifth, I'm not sure who the wife will be), I sat in Humphries Coliseum, "The Hump" in Starkville, freezing to death. As per instructions, we refrained from hollering out and yelling as the students began their march to receive their faux diplomas. (As usual, the authentic document was mailed only after we returned his cap and gown unharmed.)

During their sacred ascent to the stage, a beach ball floated out onto the floor where the graduates sat, and they began to toss it back and forth. If there had only been sun and sand, I might have been warm and could have enjoyed myself.

This spring, as graduation rolls around again, I will attend graduations. Yes, that's right: plural—graduations. I have one daughter graduating from the University of Mississippi nursing school. The pinning ceremony the night before adds to the fun-filled festivities. Also, my sixth-grade daughter is graduating, too. Oh yeah, and it's on the same day as daughter No. 1's graduation.

I was thinking I needed to clone myself—like dolly the sheep—so I can see people get their sheep skin. But I found out that the UMMC graduation is in the morning and the elementary graduation is in the afternoon. So I guess I can bypass cloning and just gas up the Suburban, double up on the deodorant and wear a wrinkle-free outfit.

OK. I've made fun of graduation, but I realize it is an important time in one's life: It is a rite of passage. As Gary Bolding, art professor at Stetson University said in his commencement address at Emory University in 1998: "Your families are extremely proud of you. You can't imagine the sense of relief they are experiencing. This would be a most opportune time to ask for money."

Last month, my uncle graduated from the University of Phoenix, an online school. I watched via Internet. Now there's a graduation ceremony I can handle. I watched in my robe with a cup of coffee in hand. I hadn't even brushed my teeth.

To walk or not to walk?

Whether walking or watching, this quote from Arie Pencovici really spoke to me: "Graduation is only a concept. In real life every day you graduate. Graduation is a process that goes on until the last day of your life. If you can grasp that, you'll make a difference."

There's my answer to the question: walk.


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