Monday, May 12, 2008

Standing on Ceremony

This is Andrew, my husband, who graduated with his MA on Saturday. As you can see from this (almost frighteningly representative) family photo, his folder did not include a diploma. No one's did. All folders on graduation day were empty. Students, we assume, will get them at a later time.

This made me think about ceremonies, like graduations but also weddings and funerals, inaugurations and retirement celebrations. They are often, like Andrew's folder, empty, and by that I mean woefully inadequate to represent the agonies and ecstasies that came before. For all of Andrew's late-night revisions on top of a full day teaching hooligans, for the nights he lost sleep worrying about when he would finish the degree, for the exhaustive amount of paperwork he had to shuttle back and forth to Oxford to rush in time to graduate on Saturday, a hollow book -- even the piece of paper they might have given him -- seems almost insulting.

And yet, there's something about a ceremony that the human spirit needs. There's something about the pretense of finality that helps us, or is supposed to help us, move on; if our family and friends come for the pretense, it is perhaps an even more useful exercise as we all participate in the charade that "this" hard time is now, as if it were not before, over. Although it would never be enough to represent how glad I am for him, I wish I could have done more to somehow make it all bigger. I wish I could have caused the sky to rain gold or rented 1,000 bubble machines to go off simultaneously. I wish I could have brought a marching band inside to make a cacophonous noise when he got onstage even though we were supposed to "hold our applause."

I wasn't able to do any of these things. But who knows? Even though the ceremony has passed, it's never too late for bubbles.


Anonymous said...

We all need a little ceremony now and then. Congratulations to Andrew--it is a great accomplishment and one that is his forever. I'll blow bubbles the next time I see him.

Dr. Ashley said...

First, let me say congrats to Andrew (late, of course), and second, let me say that, when I received my 8 x 12 Ph.D. diploma in the mail, I was so disappointed that this is what five years resulted in that I have still not framed it. I realize this is a bit dramatic, and I do plan to frame it this year. Sometimes I feel like such a whiny girl, but it is nice to know that other people think similar thoughts as me.