One month ago today, I graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The ceremony was rather large and anonymous. This was not unexpected: commencement ceremonies are rarely the intimate gatherings that perhaps they should be, especially not at a large state school.
Though I could go on, I prefer to discuss the event’s significance.
There has always been, it seems to me, some quasi-religious rite-of-passage aspects to graduation or commencement ceremonies. Whatever age, they are spoken of as dividing lines. Mundane events painted as crucial turning points. There is only before and after. You are a fundamentally different person, you are constantly told, and after this you’ll be treated according to this new system. The life you knew is dead, the life to come will challenge you, shape you, change you in ways you simply cannot understand.
I graduated from the sixth grade in 1998. For a second, I believed them. I believed that Junior High School was massively and importantly different from elementary school. But I soon realized: though we no longer had line-leaders, we were still doing the same thing. And maybe the building was bigger, but the people were about the same size as they had been three months before.
I guess part of this rhetoric of change is a fundamental outgrowth of the fact that the first graduation ceremonies were important. They were likely adaptations of medieval rituals brought inside the hallowed halls of some long forgotten French of English building. To distinguish men from boys.
Today there can be differences with graduation. Having decided that I need no more book learning (I’m sure my use of that phrase would convince some otherwise), this is an important dividing line in my life.
But it is not for all. Many go one, whether by choice or inertia, to study still-longer at universities. Keeping themselves from the new reality that graduation introduces them to.
But if the commencement ceremony really signifies a change, if it is really the path into independent adulthood, it cannot be the end. That change, that path, if there is one, is a slow and arduous path. The change may have been introduced, but its reality has hardly arrived.