Monday, May 19, 2008

Now, on to summer!

My daughter has now finished her college education and is in the process of moving back home for an indefinite stay. Because she's an engineer, she had multiple job offers and chose one close to home. Her graduation ceremony offered some interesting contrasts with ceremonies at other institutions, particularly the one where I teach. Here, graduations are mostly dignified ceremonies, with lots of prayers and a sermon. No one would dream of writing anything on his cap, and no one could see it anyway; we don't have to use bleachers to seat the crowd. Graduates sedately process in, receive their diplomas, shake hands, process out, and go eat cake in the cafeteria. (Cafeteria food will, indeed, harm the waistline.)

At the public university my daughter attended, the circus music the wind ensemble played provided our first clue as to what sort of ceremony she would have. The graduates processed in, more or less in orderly fashion, but students in the ROTC programs wore combat helmets instead of mortarboards, and the new mining engineers wore mining headgear. The nuclear engineers had attached yellow paper with the radiation symbol to the tops of their mortarboards, and a few students had creatively embellished the tops of their caps for the pleasure (or mortification) of the viewing audience. The faculty followed the graduates in, but apparently graduation attendance is not mandatory for faculty, since there were only a few faculty members present.

The chancellor spoke the usual greetings with unusual poise, considering the beach balls that were volleyed about by his soon-to-be former students. The balls were quickly followed by a large inflatable sheep baa-ing her way over the heads of the graduates. My dear daughter, who was raised to respect formal occasions, managed to get her hands on the inflatable toys and deflate them. The sheep suffered a laryngectomy before her deflation (and yes, the sheep was female; it had been purchased at a Store of Ill Repute.) Eventually, speakers spoke, graduates were recognized, diploma covers were handed out, pictures were taken, goodbyes were said.

But for both groups of graduates, the hard part awaits. Book learning may be over, but the education is really just beginning. Former scholars will discover that much of what they need to know is not contained in books and must be learned on the job, where bosses will control the next paycheck. New friends will be necessary, for the friends of the last four or five years have scattered. Real life will begin, without the comfort of knowing that unpleasant tasks are only 16 weeks long. Many will find that adulthood is fraught more with responsibilities than pleasures. This last revelation will be a surprise, but not entirely an unpleasant one.

So one more chapter ends, and another can't wait to get started.

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