Saturday, December 13, 2008

Graduation Kvetching

By which I mean graduations in general, not any particular graduation I've attended. (They do all blur together, don't they?)

Graduations rival department meetings for the least pleasant aspect of my job. They are the Prufrockian coffee spoons in which my life is counted out.

In no particular order, here are some things that are wrong with graduations:

1) Graduation speakers. Students have had to spend four years (at least) listening to lectures. Nobody, and I mean nobody is there to hear the speaker. And most ceremonies are long enough. I'm not complaining that graduation speakers are always bad. What I am saying is why have them at all? Think back to any graduation you've ever been to...and try to remember something...anything the graduation speaker said. I think, perhaps speakers are a means of trying to lend seriousness to an occasion that is already wrapped in over-seriousness (more on that in just a second).

2) Honorary Degrees. These are bogus. They tend to diminish the presenting institution rather than elevate the conferee. I'm not saying that awards or honorifics are always bad (but they are overdone), just that awarding someone a degree is not an appropriate form of reward. Could you imagine if, to honor me for my service to the city of Washington, the Redskins awarded me a Super Bowl ring? Or, worse, yet, how about if the Carolina Panthers did? (I've seen some institutions award honorary versions of degrees they don't even award, let's say the Panthers made up a special Super Bowl ring and gave it to me even though they've never won a Super Bowl and my achievements had nothing to do with football.)
Let's say that for writing a film book the Academy of Motion Pictures gave me an honorary Oscar for Best Director even though I've never made a film and then I insisted for the rest of my life that everyone refer to me as "Academy Award Winner..." In fact, hey, Peter, Todd, Cindy, I hereby grant you Nobel Prizes for Beer Brewing and Tasting. From this day forward, I shall refer to the three of you as Nobel Laureates. (I'm soooo jealous!).

3) No cheering rules. When and where, exactly, did this happen? Why have academic institutions become such sourpusses all of a sudden? If you've worked four years to achieve a monumental lifetime goal and friends and family have gathered around to see you get it...don't they have a right to give expressions of joy? I'm not saying be crass or rude or obscene, but whoop, holler, cheer, yell bravo, whatever. If I'm the person before or after you to receive my degree, that doesn't diminish my achievement. Are we so anxious to be taken seriously that we've lost the ability to be genuinely celebratory? I wish university presidents across the country would all read the celebration chapter in Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline...and try to make graduations a celebration for the degree recipients rather than a statement of high seriousness for the degree grantors. Let's have a big spread with some good food and music, put on the the cap and gown and give graduates an opportunity to get pictures taken with friends or mentors.

Or why not have micro ceremonies (by discipline or something) throughout the campus...where people can graduate with their friends and have a more intimate setting with their families.

Or something...there's got to be a better way to do this.

I'm trying to imagine what it would be like if the pastor interrupted my wedding for twenty minutes in order to give some elder deacon or donor to the church an honorary wife.


Michial said...

Actually, I remember my graduation speaker. But only because it was Ralph Reed and he obsequiously praised Ronald Reagan for twenty minutes.

Pre-scandal, of course. Or not of course, given the venue.

Was it you who used to secretly refer to Paul Alford as Honorary Doctor Alford, or am I thinking of someone else?

Kenneth R. Morefield said...

Well, it wasn't secretly.

But I never could sustain that practice because very few people understood it was a knock on the institution and not the man--who was always very nice to me and was a lot more respectful of the academic disciplines than those who followed him or had his ear.