Posts Tagged ‘commencement’

Adding voices

May 29, 2013

Late to the starting gate today. We were out celebrating our anniversary, and taxiing the girls back from the multiplex (“Ironman” thumbs down, “Gatsby” just ok). And it’s summertime, the living is supposed to be easy. Spent much of yesterday putting up the pool, with “Porgy & Bess” for company. Today I’ll blow up the floats and soon we’ll all be adrift, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate.

lunchboxStill thinking about milestones, endings and beginnings. One of the more nutritive things I packed into Older Daughter’s graduation lunchbox, along with many other words of unsolicited advice from many voices (and with a bag of goldfish and a Hershey bar, just because a lunchbox ought to have something at least barely edible in it) was Ann Patchett’s little book of commencement wisdom, What Now? It’s based on her Sarah Lawrence  speech a few years back.

Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined.

If you’re trying to find out what’s coming next, turn off everything you own that has an OFF switch and listen.

…our future is open, we may well do more than anyone expected of us, at every point in our development we are still striving to grow.

Sarah Lawrence is Ann’s alma mater, so part of her rumination is on the value of coming home.

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours–long hallways and unforeseen stairwells–eventually puts you in the place you are now.

Back to those voices: my favorite part of What Now? is Patchett’s “secret,” no secret to us pragmatic pluralists (and isn’t that a nice image of the walker’s dilemma, on the cover? More on that later):

The secret is to keep adding voices, adding ideas, and moving things around as you put together your life. If you’re lucky, putting together your life is a annpatchett_whatnowprocess that will last through every single day you’re alive.

And sometimes putting together your life just involves putting together your pool.


Butterfly in the sky

May 28, 2013

It’s the first unofficial day of summer, with no one to drop at school or (as yesterday) the airport, so I didn’t bother scheduling the harp to prompt my pre-dawn rising. Got up anyway, thanks to long habit and loud birds. Feels virtuous.

backpack2We’re till in the afterglow of Older Daughter’s official launch from High School on Sunday afternoon. Big party tent’s still up and so is my sentimental mood.  The commemorative slideshow Mom labored long and lovingly to assemble, with its time-lapse of 13 annual “first days,” has me strolling memory lane. Oh the places we went, back before graduating pre-school. Those were some happy walks.

And then there were all those flights of armchair adventure. One of our first songs not from the Pooh songbook was the Reading Rainbow theme: “I can go anywhere…”

Gave OlderStorytime with Emma Daughter a Seuss lunchbox filled with non-comestible stuff to chew on, including some advice to the aspiring writer. Best advice ever, of course, is “Read read read…”

But as the genial host always said, you don’t have to take my word for it. Reading’s still fundamental, we’re still born ceaselessly into the past. Follow the green light, Colbert, and read the book.

Crucial complementary advice, if you really want to free your imagination and go places: take a reading/writing break. Take a hike.


May 27, 2013

Most of a walker’s milestones are unremarkable and unremarked. Yesterday Older Daughter took a short walk across a tented stage and passed a big one: High School. She graduated with distinction, accomplishment, praise, and promise. Congrats, lucky class of ’13!

And now, in a few fleeting summer weeks, she gets to head out and do it again. Four more years, if her path is straight and clear, to her next short walk milestone and a college degree. Oh the places she’ll go!

And there’s Younger Daughter, stepping up to take her place in the procession right behind. If the stars align we’ll be celebrating a pair of graduations in 2017. May we all remember, between now and then, to savor the journey.

Getting started

May 12, 2012

My colleagues and I at MTSU aren’t typically enthused about commencement exercises at our school. We take turns and consider it a necessary chore, to crowd into the overheated Murphy Center basketball arena and sit in our absurd medieval robes for the perfunctory “go get ’em” address by some invited minor luminary, followed by the monotonous, interminable roll-call of names A to Zed. It takes hours that seem like days.

Vandy does it better. They sit outdoors on nice days, there’s a spirit of festivity in the air that’s been building all week, and they get on with it. Their faculty probably don’t regard their ritual  much more highly than we do ours, but I’ll swap spots with them any time.

Anyway, we all need to remember that this is a day for the students and their families.  We’re bit players, part of the stage setting. We shouldn’t complain.

I ambled purposively into the throng yesterday morning before Vandy’s commencement exercises, recalling my own walk for the PhD on this campus years ago. It was the only such ceremony I’ve ever submitted to, discounting Humpty Dumpty nursery school. The look on my Dad’s face, and I guess on mine when he snapped the photo of me exiting the stage, was worth the price of admission.

Anyway, there will need to be a section in my book (working title : Philosophy Walks) for all the formal walks down aisles and across stages that accrue to a nomal life. I’ve come at last to appreciate them. As I made my way through the crowd yesterday I thought about how, for a habitual morning walker, “commencement” comes daily.  Sometimes, it’s pro forma. But sometimes it really is a new beginning.

I also appreciated Physics & Astronomy staffer Pickert’s gesture against undue solemnity on these occasions.

You can’t walk away from education

May 16, 2011

It wasn’t my turn to walk with our graduating class this year, so I was surprised to find myself seeking out the live stream of Vanderbilt’s commencement ceremonies the other day. By “tradition” Vanderbilt saves a dime and has its Chancellor deliver the big send-off address. That’s usually a let-down. Maybe it was again, for most of the graduates. But I was excited when Chancellor Zeppos cited John Dewey and quoted him at length, on what’s best about education. The gist of it was that education is not something you can ever walk away from, if you mean to be an educated and intelligent organism. It’s a lifelong endeavor. “The heart of the sociality of man is education,” you can’t commence anything worthwhile if you already think you know it all. Good message.

And so is Tali Sharot’s, in yesterday’s Times, on the value of “cautious optimism”:

That may be the most useful message to communicate to graduates — believe you can fly, with a parachute attached, and you will soar like an eagle.

But most college graduates these days won’t be impressed by commencement cliches. They just need a little positive encouragement. They don’t need to soar, they just want to get off the ground.

Like the shuttle Endeavour, in about an hour…

POSTSCRIPT: “Expanding our knowledge, expanding our lives in space.”


May 14, 2010

It is always good to begin.

Today is commencement day at my old school.

First time I “walked” in a graduation exercise was at Humpty Dumpty nursery school, c.1963. That picture’s moldering in a trunk or drawer somewhere. (One of these days I’ll dis-burden myself of all those decaying images, and trust them to the ever-expanding Cloud. Betcha can’t wait.)

I don’t think we had a kindergarten, elementary, or middle-school graduation. I skipped the High School ceremony in ’75. Skipped Senior Year, in fact.

Then, I skipped my undergrad commencement ceremony in ’80. Guess I felt embarrassed about having taken an extra year, after switching majors from Poli Sci to Philosophy. Or, I was just not yet awake to the importance of ceremony and ritual in marking our milestones from cradle to grave.

And then, Grad School. On again, off again, on again, off again. They shoulda given me a Q.

But I finally got good & ready to do it, and fortunately had a spouse and a mentor who wanted me to do it, so I did it. Then I felt a grateful obligation  to the people who’d stuck with me– parents, teachers, spouse, daughter (she was key: already a late sleeper even in infancy, I HAD to write every morning from 5 to 7).

So, I put on the cap and gown and took that walk.

It was a good one.