Yesterday was Commencement day for the University of Maine Class of 2015. I'm not actually graduating until December owing to the unique way in which the BBC is fundedbecause I have to finish my minor in mechanical engineering tech, but I'm still a member of that graduating class, so I was eligible to attend.
Now, ordinarily, I would probably have blown off something like that. After all, I'm 41. Dressing up in a judge's robe and walking around part of campus for a while, then listening to some speakers talk about the bold future that awaits me, is all a bit silly to me at this point.
On the other hand, part of the reason I did this when I did was to get my degree while my father's parents are still alive and able to see it happen, and my mother is the sort of gets very excited about that kind of thing. So I resigned myself to my fate, ordered the regalia, and showed up at the appointed time and place to participate in the show.
And there was a lot of regalia. Given that I understand the tradition is for academic regalia to accrete, so that you wear all of it that you already had whenever you get your next degree, and so on, then wear the whole boxful every time you attend such a ceremony in a professional capacity thereafter (if you are, e.g., a member of a faculty), I'm going to look like a secondhand rope merchant if I eventually pile on a couple of higher degrees and go into the academic field myself. I had:
- An undergraduate's gown. You've seen these. You wore one yourself if you graduated from college. Or high school, come to that. The University of Maine's are dark blue, and at the undergraduate level they're pretty cheap, since the expectation is that they'll only be worn once. They're like those costume-shop fezzes that are just one piece of felt. They look pretty good from a fairly short distance away, though, so points to the manufacturer for that.
- An undergraduate's cap (mortarboard). Again, you wore one of these yourself at your high school and/or college graduation, at least if you are an American; I don't know how other countries do graduation headgear. A square piece of cardboard clad in the same stuff they make the robe out of, with an elastic contraption to secure it to your head, and a button on top for a tassel. Many of my classmates embellished the tops of their mortarboards with various cheery slogans, such as Class of 2015 4ever!, Let's go Black Bears!, and 47K in debt!!; floral-themed decorations akin to those often found on cakes; and, in one memorable case, a GoPro. I thought about marking mine like a helipad, but decided against it.
- A color-coded mortarboard tassel. Mine is white, the standard color within the UMaine College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for the various "of letters" degrees (history, English, foreign languages, et al.).
- The satin sash and honor cord for Phi Alpha Theta, the International History Honor Society. The sash is red; ΦΑΘ's honor cord colors are steel-blue and dark red.
- The honor cord for Pi Mu Epsilon, the International Mathematics Honor Society. ΠΜΕ uses a triple cord of dark purple, light purple, and gold. I still have no real idea why I was invited to join this organization, but I shall wear their regalia with pride.
- The honor cord for the Phi Beta Kappa Society, an honor society for the liberal arts and sciences in general. I was only invited to join this one last month, and was more than a little surprised to receive the invitation, but hey, it's Phi Beta Kappa. Φ&Beta:Κ's honor cord is pink and pale blue; perhaps they wish to convey the progressive-for-1776 notion that academic distinction is for girls and boys. :)
I wasn't the only, or the most elaborately, decorated person in the place by far - there were a lot of people sporting the extremely elaborate beauty-pageant-style STUDENT ATHLETE sash, the Honors College kids all had their college's traditional giant gold medal on a white ribbon, and the class officers were suitably done up, plus honor cords of all colors, and of course the higher degrees' regalia is more elaborate still, with hoods and stoles and the doctoral robes' special sleeves and hats, and so forth. I think I may have been wearing more of those cords than any other single student, though. I'm not actually sure that's strictly cricket, but since we received no guidance of any kind from the University about how our regalia should be worn, I figured, what the hell, I'm in all these things, I'm-a wear their stuff.
The ceremony itself was about how you would expect if you've ever been to one or seen one on TV. The setup for it was a little less than totally glamorous, I have to admit: We all gathered in the University's fieldhouse, in the infield of the indoor running track. At a signal from somebody with a megaphone, we all trooped out of the place through the giant inflatable Black Bear head the football team uses when they take the field at home games (ladies and gentlemen YOUR LOS ANGELES LAKERS!!), disappointingly with no confetti cannons or anything.
Fine, and suitably showy, but then it all kind of came down to Earth with a bump, because what's outside that door from the fieldhouse is... the athletic complex parking lot, which we all walked across in a chilly, blustery wind, clutching at our hats and things, with basically no one out there to see us do it other than the Campus Police closing the roads, because everyone who came to see the ceremony was already inside the hockey arena where it was to be held. So we processioned from the fieldhouse to said arena for the benefit of... basically no one. Following which, we walked around to the back of the arena and in through the Zamboni entrance.
Still, it beat the recessional, which, rather than a stately progression of academic pomp, was more sort of a fire drill accompanied by the UMaine Ceremonial Brass playing The Maine Stein Song over and over again. Which was a little surreal.
During the ceremony itself, I'm afraid I rather missed the details of most of the speakers' remarks, because I was preoccupied with a phenomenon that will be familiar to the larger members of the audience: Cheapass Furniture Anxiety Syndrome, wherein you spend an entire occasion wondering to yourself, Which will happen first: This speech ends, or; This chair collapses? Do I make it through here unscathed, or do I go down in UMaine history as That Guy, 2015? Fortunately, I did, but I think they may have to scrap that particular folding chair. It's done its duty.
Still, we all got through it, and at least one of my grandparents got to see it, so that's that life goal 50% accomplished. (My grandmother's too old and infirm to leave town any more, but Gramp made it down for the show.) And now I have a blue vinyl folder with a sheet of paper in it saying, "Congratulations, graduate! You'll get your diploma in the mail." Ahh, Maine.
A fine day! Zoner even turned up for it. Then we all went out to lunch and the wheels came off.
Did you ever go to swallow a bite of your dinner and it only goes about halfway down? Not so that it blocks your airway, it's below that, but it doesn't make it into your stomach. You know how that really hurts?
Now imagine that it stays that way for five hours, until someone at the Eastern Maine Medical Center emergency department can go in there with an endoscope and poke it the rest of the way down.
So yeah. That was the rest of my day.
Today I have a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice, the sore throat to go with it, several bruises from failed IV attempts, and my abs feel like I've been in a fight (an understandable side effect of retching unproductively all day). And that was graduation.
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
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Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.