Sunday, May 04, 2008


I went to the MSU Billings graduation yesterday -- as part of the faculty, sitting right up front, in cap and gown.

It was the first time I have put on a cap and gown since high school. I skipped graduation ceremonies for both my undergraduate and master's degrees. Back in grad school, I finally picked up my diploma over at the administration building a couple of weeks after the ceremony. It was tucked away on a shelf behind a counter. The guy at the counter said, "We were wondering what to do with this."

I said, "So was I."

It just wasn't a big deal at the time. I was at school on the G.I. Bill, so college always seemed more like a job than a career path. We were raising a 1-year-old while my wife and I were both in grad school, so I rarely saw the campus outside of class meetings. And I guess I still had some of my weird mix of hippie-slash-conservative Christian distaste for rituals and ceremonies of all sort.

So why the change? I'm not sure.

Part of it was that MSU Billings picks up the cost of caps and gowns for faculty members who wish to attend graduation, even for adjuncts like me. That's such a classy thing to do that it would have seemed to lack all class to turn it down.

Part of it was that when I went to my wife's graduation a few years ago, I noticed that faculty members all had fairly elaborate and colorful garb. I was curious to know what mine would look like (master of arts in English, Texas A&M University).

Part of it may just have been the realization that the older I get, the fewer opportunities remain to wear silly hats in public. I'm afraid to pass any up.

The fact that Tim Cahill was the scheduled speaker might have been reason enough to go, but I had to decide before I knew he was the speaker, so that was just a bonus reason. As it turned out, he couldn't appear because of what was described at the ceremony as a "family tragedy." I heard later that it had something to do with a traffic accident. I haven't seen anything about it in the news, so I hope it wasn't too horrible.

Commencement will never be the most exciting way to pass a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. But it wasn't bad either. The ceremony is such a solemn way to mark what essentially is a celebratory occasion that there always are bits of irreverence to either cheer or grumble about. My favorite was when some guy from the upper deck kept hollering something, presumably the name of his favorite graduate, and some guy on the floor behind me hollered back, "Shut up!"

I passed the time for a while by concentrating on the noses of the graduates. It's amazing how distorted faces can begin to appear after you have done that for a few minutes. It's sort of like the old child's game we used to play: Repeat any word often enough and it eventually begins to sound absurd and funny.

But the time passed with reasonable dispatch, and the university fed us afterward, and I went home afterward and took my first real day off since Easter. Not a bad time. But I still think they should liven things up a bit next year by requiring all graduates to adopt a Silly Walk to use as they cross the stage.


Ann said...

Had to google this, just because it's interested me, too:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I just received word that Tim Cahill's wife passed away in a car accident. He came to San Francisco State University for an interview right after the tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Glad you went, Dave. When I graduated
7 years ago I'd guess that less than 10% of the faculty bothered to show up including my advisor/main Professor in my major. He is long gone. I was amazed at the number of retired faculty who were there though. You get out of a job what you put into it applies to the Ivory Tower too...

David said...

Anonymous 12:55,
I'm not sure when the university started paying for robes for faculty, but I heard that it was done because of the embarrassingly low faculty turnout at graduations. Seems to have worked.