‘Tis the season when young people don bizarre getups and harvest goodies from relatives and friends. Graduation Day, like Halloween, is a major boon for costumed young persons.
The customary vestments that graduates wear might seem silly. But like many such things, this ensemble is steeped in meaning.
For instance, the gown is very similar to that which a person might wear at a doctor’s office. This is to convey that, in the cosmic scheme of things, you are often just a patient in the Waiting Room Of Life, so patience is important. And also – depending on what you’re wearing beneath the robe — that a passing breeze may not be your best friend.
The comical square hat that a graduate wears is known as a mortarboard. At its roots are the word “mortar” which means “the gunk that holds bricks together” and “board” which means “now that you have graduated, you’ll have to pay for your room and board.”
To top the whole thing off is that frilly hangy-downy thing called the tassel. This was inspired by the tassel atop a mature corn plant and is conveying the message, “You’re all grown up now! Time to get your pistils and stamens in order and find a job!”
But before the graduate faces the harsh realities of the real world, those who have raised them throw a soiree that includes cake that contains enough sugar to power an aircraft carrier, a mysterious Technicolor punch and cheerful cards that conceal folding money. This is to lull the grad into thinking, “Wow, this real world stuff isn’t all that bad! I can’t wait to get out there and experience more of it!”
So at its core, having a big graduation party is a bit duplicitous. But it beats the alternative, which could involve the grad sitting on the couch and watching TV until his or her skin grows into the upholstery.
The problem with modern graduation ceremonies is that they are yet another in a long line of such festivities youngsters have experienced throughout their school careers. Kids these days are given celebrations for simply meeting the basic standards of normal behavior. It’s common for little Johnny to bring home an award that says “Great Job On Not Picking Your Nose Today!” or for little Jane to be given a certificate that says “Congratulations For Kicking That Mint Paste Habit!”
I have personally been part of just one graduation ceremony, when I received my high school diploma.
Truth is, I barely made it through high school. This is not because school was difficult for me, but mainly because I hated school. Detested it. Couldn’t even stand the sight of the building.
Why? I’m not sure. I think perhaps it was partly due to being forced to conform to the expectations of others. Square peg and round hole and all that.
I also felt that school – especially high school – was a waste of my precious time. My master plan was to become a farmer, and how much did a farmer actually need to know? Maybe a little math and perhaps some rudimentary reading skills and that’s it.
But my parents, tyrants that they were, insisted that I get a high school diploma. Sadly, this was well before the Internet came along, which meant that buying a diploma online wasn’t an option.
So I had to do things the hard way, by attending classes and earning passing grades. The passing grades part would prove to be a stumbling block.
I was determined to sprint through high school in three years. This meant doubling up on some subjects and taking others out of order. By the second half of my third year, I was coasting toward my goal. One of my classes was Crafts, which was considered to be a “gimme”. Slop around some paint or slap around some clay and you’d get a C.
But Mrs. Hoffelt, our Crafts teacher, required that you actually attend her class to earn a passing grade! The effrontery! I felt that the hour was better spent driving around with my buddy Steve in his 1966 Impala, the pair of us hooting like chimps whenever he managed to lay rubber.
As a result, Mrs. Hoffelt gave me an F and I was forced to attend an entire additional semester of school.
But it was all worth it when I crossed the stage as “Pomp And Circumstance” filled the stifling gymnasium on that long-ago May evening. And as I stood in the reception line shaking hands, I felt a cool breeze lift my robe and was secretly glad that Mrs. Hoffelt had taught me patience.