That was the day I finished by last final exam in college. It was a constitutional law test, probably one of the most challenging classes of my four years. I vividly recall opening the door to the classroom and a flock of doves flying away, a heavenly light shining down on me and a choir of angels breaking out in “Hallelujah!” Suddenly, the world was a new place.
I can’t recall a similar day since then in my own life, but it makes me happy to know that others experience that same sensation each year on campuses all over the world. I get the joy of reliving it to a small degree each time I attend a college graduation ceremony. Looking out over the sea of black gowns and mortarboards, I am able to forget about unemployment and recession and bask, if just for a moment, in a wave of hope and optimism.
On Saturday, I battled the early morning crowd to attend the University of Nevada, Reno graduation. As I made my way through the traffic, I thought about my own parents fighting the crowd to see me cross the stage and receive my diploma 14 years ago. Given the unlikelihood of finding me in that giant graduation crowd — back in 1998 most people didn’t carry a cell phone — it doesn’t surprise me that my family left right after the ceremony and I didn’t even see them during the course of commencement. They were also with my grandmother, who didn’t get around so well so I’m sure that was part of the reason for their quick departure. It must take a lot of love and pride for a parent or feeble grandparent to put up with those insane crowds for the slight chance of hearing their graduate’s name called or maybe seeing them cross the stage, or possibly not even see them at all during the melee.
But for the people going through it, any amount of inconvenience is worth it. Not because the graduation ceremony is inherently fun, quite the opposite in fact. Getting up at an early hour to stand around in uncomfortable shoes and wear silly robes and hats while listening to bad speeches isn’t high on anybody’s bucket list. Fortunately, if you mix in the exuberance of youth, relief of four years (or more) of toil coming to an end and as much alcohol as one can consume without seeing double diplomas, the ceremony turns into a soiree. On Saturday, I saw more than a few folks sipping on beers as they waited with friends to take their seats in the UNR quad. If memory serves, I carried a flask of rum on my graduation day.
I talked to several graduates about their job prospects, expecting the question to serve as an unpleasant and unwelcome reminder of the reality these now-former students would wake up to Monday morning when the booze wore off. To my surprise, about a half dozen or so I talked to had jobs lined up already. There were a couple who were taking time off to “find themselves” or were headed right back to the classroom to pursue even higher educations, but the degree of confidence in the future was surprisingly high in my small sampling. Maybe I just happened to talk to the lucky ones or it was just an extension of the mood of the day, but I would like to think that hopefulness and success were more than buzzwords from the cookie-cutter graduation speeches. It would be nice to think that hopefulness and success will be realities for all of the graduating classes of 2012. It would be nice …
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to dig out my old cap and gown and wear them around for a while.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.