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After the Pomp and Circumstance

June 9, 2010

My daughter just graduated from high school.

The experience took me back many years to the day I heard my name called by the school board president and walked across the stage at Blossom Music Center in Boston Mills, Ohio. I received my trio of roses and my diploma, and into the future I went.

As I celebrate my daughter's achievement, I also honor the countless others who are finishing academic programs at high schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions designed to help them navigate this journey called adulthood. It's a common rite of passage, though not everyone is ready for it.

My daughter's commencement took place at a conventional theater house in downtown Cleveland. We witnessed standard commencement fare: a concert choir, the symphonic band playing Pomp and Circumstance, speeches by the class leaders, the roll call of students' names to the shouts, applause, and foghorns of parents, the placing of the tassel from one side to the other, and the victorious tossing of the mortar board into the air at the end of it all. It's been nearly a week. Was it memorable? Will it be? I wonder what she will remember at six months to a year from now.

I'm curious if Oberlin students will remember their festive weekend that also included reunion activities. Oberlin puts on a stunning commencement. I attended an illumination service
(setup as well as the ceremony) my first year here and was awed by the beauty, simplicity, and stillness of the moment. The colorful Japanese lanterns that line Tappan Square are a sight to behold.

I'd like to believe that other colleges and universities have ceremonies that make their commencement unique for the graduates, their families, and the scores of well-wishers who attend. But what will you remember about Oberlin's event? Julie Taymor's commencement speech? The president's address? The faculty piano recital? Illumination? The processional around the Memorial Arch?

These images will probably fade with time, but far more memorable are the friendships and relationships built and established during high school and college. For my recent high school graduate, I suspect the most vivid part of her school career will be her friends in the instrumental music program. A shared love of music evolved into other shared interests and eventually solid friendships. If she is lucky, these friendships will endure as she moves forward, particularly those who prove themselves to be faithful, accepting, accountable, and trustworthy.

College friendships and relationships take on a new, weightier meaning, since these people can become spouses, life partners, entrepreneurial and business associates, travel companions, investors ... whatever you imagine you might want from that special relationship.

I'm sure, during this graduation season, I'm not the only one thinking about what it means to be an alum--high school or college---and all the personal satisfaction, resources, and connections that come with that association. It's like being part of a club whose only requirements for membership is affinity and a degree. As the saying goes, "it's not what you know, but who you know." I'm grateful to social media for at least one thing: it's much easier than it used to be to attain and sustain relationships--especially long-distance ones.

So for my daughter and everyone who just became an alum, remember that commencement marks not only the moment to start afresh but also a call to continue the relationships that really matter.

Illumination photo by Matt Kowal.

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