It has been fifteen years since I graduated from high school and I still remember the process of ordering, mailing, and receiving my high school graduation announcements. I had–without outside consultation or even much thought–counted up the number of my immediate family, close friends, and other folks who might like to know that I was moving on with my life and come to the number 13. So, I’d turned in my request and proceeded to think even less about those invitations as the days and weeks till graduation counted down. Somewhere during this blissful ignorance my mom asked if I’d gotten the information for ordering announcements and I answered–thinking I’d get a pat on the head for being both punctual and frugal in my handling of the situation–that I had everything taken care of. Her response was not as I had expected.
“So you got one for both your sets of grandparents?”
“And for all your aunts and uncles on both sides?”
“And for your grandfathers’ brothers?”
Well, I order a couple extra.”
“And for all my cousins?”
“No… You have cousins?
“Did you order one to send to the church?
“Mom, the church is my job! Why would I send one to the church where they pay me to play drums?”
“Now, it would also probably be good to send one to the newspaper.”
“Mom, I also work there. They already know I’m graduating. And besides, it isn’t that newsworthy that I passed algebra and chemistry to graduate, is it?”
When all the lists were made of distant relatives–on both sides, people who had baby-sat or cut my hair or otherwise contributed to my education, and copies for local news and law enforcement agencies, I think she made an emergency order for an additional 8,988 invitations for a grand total of over 9000! I can still remember thinking, “do all these people really care–or are my parents just trying to insure that I receive as many graduation gifts as possible?” Last year my family had a near nuclear meltdown when my BA graduation invitations didn’t arrive as quickly as they expected and I had to call everyone and assure them that there were, indeed, colorful slips of paper winging their way through the US postal service, addressed to them, and demonstrating my appreciation for their attendance.
It seems that everyone takes these things a bit more seriously than the graduate does–at least in part, because–for the graduate–the diploma ceremony is the anti-climax that follows the real climactic moment (passing the comp exams, getting the final grades online, or successfully defending one’s dissertation). For those of us in the MAPH program, the June 9th ceremony is even more of a strange afterthought, because all our actual work will have been done at least three weeks–due between the 21st and 25th of May. Incidentally, this means that I and the majority of my fellow MAPHers will attend class for two weeks after we’ve already turned in our final seminar papers.
What my family understood during those earlier graduation events–and I am just starting to understand–is that graduations are only partially the products of committed individuals in darkened rooms with noses pressed to innumerable grindstones. Graduations are also the product of countless other people supporting those students monetarily, emotionally, and spiritually–allowing them to do their best work and earn the degrees they deserve. It is only at convocation that all those other people can share in the fruits of their labors. So, if you’re going to graduate in a few weeks, take some time out to thank those who made it possible and if you are one of those that contributed to a graduate’s success take some time to tell your student how proud you are of their accomplishment–and your part in it.