Saturday, May 25, 2013


We had graduation last night at our local regional Catholic school. Twenty-three 8th-graders ended their elementary school careers. Unlike the situation a century ago, all presumably will now continue their education, going on to high school (and many even farther).
The prolongation of the educational process - and therefore of childhood - was already well underway when I graduated from 8th grade on Sunday afternoon, June 25, 1961. It was, I suppose, your standard hot and humid June day in that non-airconditioned world. I assuem it was hot and humid because I don't really remember anything about the weather - except that it rained briefly at the end of the Baccalaureate Mass that mornng. I remember that detail because, as we were starting to file out of the church, the pastor sent us briefly back inside until the shower stopped (presumably to keep our rented caps and gowns dry for the commencement ceremony that afternoon).
I remember other things too about that Mass - at 9:00 a.m in the lower church. I remember our pastor preaching to us about how this was our first real, personal accomplishment - unlike First Communion and Confirmation, which he suggested were more important but which were things that just sort of routinely happened at a certain age. During the Mass, the organ suddenly started to play, and we sang two of the three hymns we had been practicing for what seemed like forever. (In those days,. graduations were serious, somewhat formal and decorous affairs and were well rehearsed in advance). I remember how we belted out one of those hymns in a somewhat staccato manner:  Mother - O spotless Mother - On earth no other - Compares with Thee - Through Thee - Christ is my brother - For his own Mother - He gave to me.
The actual graduation was in the afternoon - at 3:00 p.m. in the upper church. It must have been hot in that soaring gothic building, but again I don't really remember. We sang our third hymn, and if I recall correctly there was no sermon this time. The diplomas were handed out, and we spent much of the rest of the ceremony passing them around the pews until you got the one that actually had your name on it. I also got one of the academic awards. My prize was a leather bound, Daily Missal, in confromity with the new 1960 Code of Rubrics. (I still own it). The ceremony ended with Solemn Benediction (with Deacon and Subdeacon) of the Most Blessed Sacrament. My 8th grade teacher lamented the lack of any Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart, while my father noted the absence of the National Anthem. One of my aunts praised it for being "short and sweet" - a viewpoint most of my other relatives also seemed to share.
Four years later, to the day, I would graduate again - this time in the High School Gymnasium around the block from the church. (Exactly 40 years later,  tot he day,I would attend my one and so far only high school class reunion).
On Tuesday, May 30, 1972, I graduated from college in a much more impersonal ceremony. It was noteworthy mainly for being the last City College Commencement outdoors in the soon-to-be-torn-down Lewisohn Stadium. What I especially remember about that event was hearing the City College alma mater, Lavender, My Lavender, for the my first and only time, and for the imitation classical "Ephebic Oath" we recited, the best part of which was the promise to "transmit this City and College not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than they were transmitted to me." 
I went through one further graduation - on another Tuesday,  June 7, 1977 - when I ritually received my Princeton Ph.D. The ceremony was again outdoors, but in a much nicer setting - in front of  colonial Nassau Hall near the famous "Stamp Act Sycamores," planted there in 1766. That too was somewhat impersonal, but I probably enjoyed it by far the most of the four! Among other things, it featured a hymn and a Latin oration, for which participants were provided a text with notes indicating when to applaud ("hic plaudite," "hic vehementer plaudite"), etc.
During the four years of my brief academic career, I faithfully attended Marquette University's commencement each May - partly out of a sense of duty to the acturally rather ephemeral idea of being part of an academic community, and partly to get some use out of my black and orange Princeton academic gown. 
Now, decades later, I find myself attending graduations again! I do so now with much more detachment, I suppose. But I certainly hope these milestone celebrations still mean something to those who participate in them enough that their incidental details will still be remembered half a century later.

No comments:

Post a Comment