A Student's Perspective
A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse into the Future: The Commencement/Reunion Spectacular
For the past three semesters I've worked in the alumni office, but this May was the first time I witnessed and made my debut in its finale--Oberlin's Commencement/ Reunion spectacular. The build-up to the big weekend was frantic--the staff worked hard to finish everything in time while simultaneously handling last-minute calls and often exasperating requests. Commencement housing, dining, and event reservations came via mail, phone, fax, and, in one case, napkin. The fact that it comes together, and does so every year without fail, is a tribute to directorial dedication, and is nothing short of production genius.
While students end their academic year and prepare for finals, the alumni office gets down to business in earnest. And just as the end-of-the-year rush presents frustrations and challenges for students, it is also the time when administrators, administrative assistants, and all College workers intensify their efforts, working longer and harder to ensure the weekend's success. Of course, no matter how smoothly the preparation is executed, there are always those who complain; but what is a performance without its fair share of critics?
Working at Commencement headquarters (where all weekend visitors come for tickets, ask directions, and receive answers to any number of questions), allows the production crew to not only match faces with forms, but to see the history of Oberlin and what college meant to those who return. As a student, I met those who came before me--the individuals whose energy and intellect helped set the stage for the kind of place Oberlin is today.
Oberlin is one of the few colleges committed and crazy enough to hold reunions the same weekend as graduation. The unique gathering of townsfolk, alums, parents, and students, spanning generations and continents, is worth the work; it adds perspective for graduates who can see their future in the returning alums, and for alums, who can not only reminisce but actually relive a little piece of their college years. As for me, I was given a preview of next year, when it is my turn to graduate.
Watching the weekend and witnessing the excitement of the participants and the closure of commencement, my own graduation phobia was replaced with anticipation. I'm ready to see it from the other side. Next year I'll forgo the ten-hour days standing on my feet distributing tickets and information. (I plan to celebrate the end of my own little era with as few responsibilities and commitments as possible.) But I appreciate the experience, the depth, and the surge of bravery that my commencement preview brought.
Eager to get on with it, the critic in me can forgive the shortcomings of the actual graduation ceremony--the disorganized processional, the dearth of professors and graduation regalia, the flip flops and tiaras, the jeans and tired old political statements. Too much pomp and circumstance is not Oberlin's style. But next time, as a participant, a Commencement player rather than audience member, the only thing I will be responsible for is myself. I've seen the weekend through from planning to performance, and now I m ready for my close-up.
Catherine Mayhew is a Virginia native, majoring in sociology and preparing for her final year at Oberlin. She has worked for the Alumni Association, OAM and The Oberlin Review, and participates in the Oberlin Mentors Program. Catherine has about six months to figure out what she wants to do for the next stage of her life.