Saturday, June 7, 2008

On Pomp and Circumstance

Graduation was wonderful.

I can be cynical and I expected that I would be, that I’d think all the pomp and circumstance was dumb, that I’d just keep saying that it wasn’t a big surprise that I am or that anyone else at HW is graduating so why are we celebrating so much? I was annoyed by the last ditch attempt at senior bonding. If we haven’t bonded over the last six years, that may be our loss, but I don’t want to get attached to people I’m never really going to get to know and that I most likely won’t keep in touch with except for the occasional Facebook stalk. Too little, too late which is, really, too bad.

But then, I actually graduated. I went to the Senior/Faculty breakfast and I took pictures with most of the teachers I loved most and I looked around at our whole senior class and realized that I know something, some little thing, about almost everyone. I know how we function and fit together. I may not like it, the cliques and the gossip and the people that do this or that and the people that don’t, but I know where we stand and even that, the moving pieces, makes us a group. A group that won’t ever, EVER be together all in the same place at the same time again. Not everyone will show up to reunions, not everyone will show up to alumni gatherings in X city or Y, not everyone will keep wired via Facebook. There will be the people we can’t help but keep track of, the people running for office, the people on TV, making movies, writing books, winning those ridiculously prestigious awards, and then there will be the people we can’t keep track of even if we try. People will move out of the country, change their last names, marry one, two, three, eight times, become hermits, go into the witness protection program and we will never hear from them again. We may have talked to them twice throughout all of high school and we won’t miss them every day or even every year, but we will remember them sometimes and we will have known them and known people that knew them. We will have shared this common experience. They were there and we were there. We may collectively remember or not remember each other, have liked or hated each other, have talked in the back of a math class or been in that one scene that one time in 10th grade acting but we were there. We were, for better or for worse, the Harvard-Westlake class of 2008.

Anyway, then we gave awards to teachers, which is nice. Teachers deserve awards, even though I didn’t really know 2/3 of the awardees. Most of the ones I loved most were ineligible because classes before us had gotten there first. Classes behind us will get there again.

Then we graduated. My feet hurt.We complained about the heat (although really, we were lucky, as it was the valley in June and probably only 83ish). We compared robes and debated the merits of the medieval oxfordian tradition of mortarboards. (I love them, personally. I love that we wore something we will never wear on any other occasion but a graduation. It’s like a wedding dress. It’s like getting into character from the outside in. Tradition, good call.) We hid puzzle pieces in our hands and walked down the aisle after all the teachers in their really cool robes that we agreed made us all want to be teachers just a little bit or just a little bit more. We squished in on the risers and listened to Mr. Hudnut, then Justin, then Danielle, then Ms. Hueybrechts as she called all of our names. Some of us (or, rather, some of the boy’s water polo team) de-robed down to shoes, socks and a speedo. (I have mixed opinions about this. On the one hand, my grandmother was at graduation. On the other, a little irreverence never hurt anyone and it was all in good fun. On the third, something to look at. Kidding. Maybe.) We signed the alumni book and sat back down. We threw up our ancient caps, grabbed someone else’s off the ground and went to take pictures we knew we’d look at again some day, or maybe see in a newspaper or magazine, as graduation pictures, like prom pictures, tend not to get buried in the debris of the past. I loved it. I thought it was perfection, really.

A word on speeches…and lack thereof. Justin’s speech was amazing. I generally really like his writing, his dark humor and the twisting texts that go from bizarrely funny to bizarrely tragic without anyone really noticing. But: a graduation speech is probably one of the hardest things to do well. Several are given at each of millions of graduations each year. There are really two possible tacks to take: advise or summarize. Advice can get preachy; it's a very fine line. Summaries are pretty useless because they don’t really explain anything of import to people in the audience that weren’t with us at HW and they can’t really condense the six (or however many) years for the people that were a part of that time. My summary is going to be wholly different from yours or his or hers. Any speech will come out of only one person’s experience and that person must extrapolate and tune in to that collective experience which, at Harvard-Westlake, I might have said we hardly had. Justin’s speech proved me wrong. I would have said Justin and I had nearly opposite experiences, but for me and, I think, after talking with classmates and parents, for many people, he expressed things I couldn’t say politely to a large audience and impressed upon me the responsibility that comes with the gift of a great education, of being “promising” in his words, that I hadn’t thought about in a while because I was steeped in resentment for a bunch of crappy things that seemingly overridingly defined my latter-day HW experience. I can’t paraphrase his speech. Sorry. It’ll probably end up on YouTube, as nearly everything does, and I highly recommend looking it up. I’ll link to it if I ever find it.

So, we had the valedictory address then, and went right to the names. We don’t have a famous, high-powered speaker. Mr. Hudnut said we bypass that tradition to put the focus on the students. I don’t generally like Mr. Hudnut’s approach to schooling. I don’t like his focus on AP’s, on being so good at so many things that we never sleep and have no time for friends. My mother did actually walk out of one of his speeches once. I think he must be sincere in this belief, however, because Harvard-Westlake doesn’t often waste an opportunity to spend money and get big name people to attach themselves to our community. I’m glad we passed up this one. I think it’s really classy that we don’t have a major player give a speech. He or she doesn’t know us and, although my dad says it’s supposed to be inspirational, I think we can inspire ourselves and I think we should and, with Justin’s speech as my evidence, I think we did. At a school with 281 graduating seniors, I think it’s impersonal to get “a speaker.” At a college graduation, sure, but for us, no. Classy note to end on, HW. Good job. I may even remember you fondly. The very end, anyway.

To the Class of 2008: I didn’t get to know a lot of you too well. I blame the lack of a lunch period, the fact that we never had a class together, the fact that I’m shy (working on it), the fact that our class of 280 is a little too big to really bond as one gigantic unit. Anyway, we all probably wouldn’t have gotten along, and some of us may have hated each other in 7th grade and loved each other in 12th (or vice versa). Some of us probably would have liked each other very much. There are a lot of people I liked or admired that had no idea, so thanks for being generally pretty awesome. Go on to do great things and I’ll keep track of you via Facebook, alumni magazines, reunions, and, hopefully, Entertainment Tonight, MSNBC, and the New York Times.

More likely later.

p.s. Grad night was awesome. I think I fell asleep on the bus after venue number three at 6am for about 15 minutes (and woke up on Katie's shoulder...thanks bus buddy!) but other than that, I got home and crashed at about 8. I won't try to summarize or describe it. Just wanted to say thanks to anyone who had a hand in organizing it (not that a single one of them will likely ever read this) and thanks to anyone I saw or talked to (even if I hadn't talked to you since 7th grade...which happened) who made it fabulous. Maybe senior bonding really does exist. Maybe.


Aughr said...

Nicely done, Gapper (I don't think you've posted your name, so I'm not going to write it).

Even though I don't think I talked to you at all on grad night, I feel like this post acted as a sort of unilateral senior bonding, though you may not have intended it that way.

Thank you for that.

Dani said...

I graduate on Friday, and I've been thinking very much about the people I've gone to school with. I go to a smaller school, even though it's public, and I had the fortune of getting know - or at least having a class with - every student in my grade.

I didn't like some of them, but I liked even more of them whether they know it or not.

Reading this entry makes me think even harder about it as well as makes me sad. We do work as a unit, and we know each other what bugs who and who likes what, what art major (an art magnet high school) everyone is and what sort of music they listen to. 170 kids sounds like a lot but we really did get to know each other connect...

So whether you liked high school or not: everyone needs to realize that these are the people we grew up with, they taught us our lessons and we learned from each other; the coming years won't hold these people anymore - the people who may not like us, but at least accept us as someone they shared their youth with.
And that's what brings us together, I think, like you said.

Very nice, Becca. You write and express yourself well. : )

Gerry Sarnat MD said...

Hey, Gapper, good to hear. Lots of déjà vu: Zoe had a similar experience in Itul Cachi, Equador with Amigos De Las Americas to what you describe, really enjoyed but booed (Bua-ed?) Plato and genderwise! Gerry S.