Graduating Every Year

It’s like a Harry Potter convention every year. Before Harry Potter, graduation was simply graduation. Now, it’s like Who Looks Like A Wizard In Their Graduation Garb?

Graduation garb is pretty silly. The faculty gather in the basement of the newly renovated Coliseum (here, renovation means they painted it a fresh gray) along with the graduates. All the graduates wear gray caps and gowns (so they kind of fade into the gray of their surroundings). The faculty is a mismatching cornucopia of colors and textiles.

The really fancy PhD people usually deck themselves out in heavy robes, some brandy red, some black, some deep blue. Most of these robes involve velvet. George Costanza would be in heaven. They get to wear beret-like hats that are like velvet beanies with a tassel in lieu of a propeller.

I wear a judge-like black robe (gown? it’s really a robe. otherwise, this would be more like prom and I’d need special underwear) with a zip up front. Okay, I’m pretty sure they all have a zip up front. Anyway, there was that one time I thought the sleeves were sewn shut and I fought with my robe in the parking lot until I realized the sleeves had wings and the arm holes were in a different part of the robe. Yes, I have several college degrees, and yes, robes are complicated.

I don’t get a beanie hat. I get the same hat the graduates wear–the square flat piece of fabric-covered cardboard attached to a half-head-condom with a widows peak. This year, I could not find my hat so I simply put my hair in a little messy bun because that’s somehow equivalent.

Some grads and faculty rock the medallions. I have two. One is an ODK honor society medal. Hmm. You know what? I have no idea what the other one is. Maybe next year, I’ll look at  it. Some faculty wear these huge Chancellor’s Award medals. Some students wear medals, too. I don’t know what they are either, but I think some are honors society or graduating with honors.

Then the faculty all have hoods. Your definition of hood is probably the generally accepted definition of a hood–that head-shaped fabric attached to tops that you can put over your head. That’s not the case here. In academia, a hood is a long, sometimes velvety, usually colorful piece of fabric that you wear around your neck to choke yourself through the entire ceremony. It comes with a little loop in front that you are supposed to loop over a button on your shirt. If you’re not wearing a button-down shirt, then you get to try to not get asphyxiated by your own outfit.  In past years, I’ve been able to loop through my gown’s zipper, but I’ve done that too many times and the loop is warped, so this year, I kept tugging on it instead.

I had my shoulder bag with me, which proved a challenge. How to carry a bag without looking like I was carrying a bag? I wanted to have some sense of decorum. But then I looked around and some faculty looked like they were ready for camping, so I opted to carry it low and have my winged sleeve cover it up halfway.

And so after standing in the big gray room for about an hour, we lined up and moved into the hall where we stood for ten minutes. Then we moved and stopped again for a few minutes. Then we proceeded onto the floor under the bright enough to blind you spotlight so we could be projected up on the big screen. Instead of filing into rows, we had to walk in a big circle around the chairs and up the middle and then file into rows from there.

Then the students came in. Instead of having their names called as they walk across the stage to get their diploma, they get their names called as they come in and walk around in a circle. They hand their name on an index card off to whoever is calling out the names, and they walk in, and then sometimes people in the audience cheer.

This procession of names takes about an hour. No one knows when to sit or stand. It’s kind of like church only in church it’s clearer when to sit or stand. Church also has a kneeling option. Seasoned faculty sit as soon as the procession gets to ten names. Less seasoned wait until 20. Then there’s a very scattered whack-a-mole production of sitting and standing and whispering, “Do we sit?” Eventually, we are all seated, and some of us are doing crosswords, some are reading, some are looking at phones, but all the while, we are cheering on the students we know.

Once the last student proceeded in, we all gave a cheer and stood for all the grads. Then we sat. Then the admins started their procession, so we stood for the admins. Why? Because decorum means standing when people proceed in a circle unless the procession is an hour. The person on campus who is in charge of facilities was the mace bearer. Or is it mase barer? I don’t know. What I do know is that instead of church, now I felt like I was in temple at a bar mitzvah when they walk the Torah around. This is my main memory of attending bar mitzvah ceremonies, and I have no idea if it’s accurate.

After the admins got to the stage, we all sat. Then we all stood for the Pledge of Allegiance led by the salutatorian. Then we all sat again.

Then there was a very odd explanation of how NCC is a SUNY school so we were going to watch a video of someone from SUNY. Up on the big screen (for which we all needed to turn in our seats and crane our necks to see) an odd video began playing with a woman talking about students going to Puerto Rico for aid efforts. Then though I’ve never seen her on campus, she touted her work with students on NCC’s campus. Clearly, this is a moment of [insert particular campus here] but still, there was cheering because, you know, pandering.

The speeches were short and sweet. Both the Valedictorian and the SGA president (I think) spoke. They were pretty great, pointing out the challenges they all overcome to get to where they are. Two honorary degrees were granted. I don’t know if they were honorary doctorates but we are a community college that grants only associates degrees unless you’re in the four year nursing program, so maybe they were just generic “degrees.”

The chorus sang. That was neat. I wish the acoustics had been better for this performance and overall. There was constant noise, people talking in the audience and most likely the grads talking to each other, so it was hard to hear a lot of stuff.

What was loud and clear was when one of the admins called the president to the podium to bestow graduation status on the students. This is my favorite part–the tassel moving. I love it every time!

Then the faculty gets to proceed out first. I didn’t stop proceeding until I got to my car in the lot where I untangled myself from my robe and medals and choker hood to head home, having graduated yet one more time. Congratulations, everyone.

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