I wish we had Salem State University graduation on Saturday to look forward to. Here’s what would have happened:
You would have arrived early so excited that the day had FINALLY arrived! You’d find your friends. You’d fuss about your cap and gown. You’d go into the gym, find your spot, leave the gym, return, repeat! I’d arrive and would go to the gym to find you so I could congratulate you. We might take pictures.
Then the line-up call would go out. Faculty go first. Then the graduates. This part always gives me chills! This takes a long time, but it’s almost the best part, watching everyone parade in smiling and looking around for family.
Next, the program leading up to why we’re all there: to see you get your diploma (well, at least the diploma cover!). The national anthem is always beautifully sung by a graduate. The student speech tends to be the best of all the speeches.
After all of this, it’s time for the conferring of degrees. The provost LOVES this part and does it with enthusiasm. The English faculty follow along in the program waiting for our majors’ turn. As soon as the first English major is positioned to be called, the English faculty stand and applaud every single graduate. I yell out your name. I ALWAYS yell out my students’ names.
More speeches. More clapping. Some yelling. Some thanking.
The provost makes his closing remarks and the faculty begin the parade out. Faculty head to the soccer field so we can see you, congratulate you, hug you, meet your family, take pictures, wish you well.
You leave for more celebrating.
From the outside, everything looks the same year to year. This is ritual. Just like birthdays, holidays, weddings, etc. All have a sameness to them from the outside. But ritual is more than the outward sign. Every ritual includes individual significance. In this way, ritual becomes sacrament. What happens during these rituals blesses those involved, changes them. Those looking on don’t know, can’t see the struggles, the tears, the frustration, the dejection, the joy, the successes, the surprises, the gifts that led up to this one moment, this one ritual, this one sacrament. Only you know what it took, what it cost, what you gave, what you lost, what you gained. You may have shared some of this with friends, colleagues, professors, me. None of us know. Nevertheless, we do know that this is a milestone. That this has significance beyond the moment. That you earned something no one can take from you. And we celebrate that.
I know you wanted more. I know you worked for the pomp and circumstance. I know you deserve to have it. I know getting to this point in your life wasn’t easy. I know you struggled before and during these four or more years. I know how proud you are of what you’ve accomplished. I am proud, too. Proud of your courage. Proud of your determination. Proud of your commitment. Proud of your success. Proud for you. Proud of you.
Theresa DeFrancis is associate professor and coordinator of the MAT English Program at Salem State University. She resides in Salem.