I've spent the last four years telling myself that I should write a post about commencing from Oberlin before commencement actually happens (it's on Monday! OH MAN.) and finally, finally, I've got a moment to do so.
So, commencement. It's our fancy word for graduation, and it usually happens in the last week of May over Memorial Day weekend — the celebrations, that is, the ceremony itself is on Monday. It's a time of much festivities, not just because our totally sweet seniors are heading off into the wide world with the blessings of Oberlin on their shoulders, but also because we also throw our class reunion celebrations during this same weekend. Commencement/reunion weekend means that campus is filled to the brim with giddy but bittersweet soon-to-be grads and groups of Obies that have been through that same exactly emotional weekend anywhere from 5 to 65 years ago.
I wish I could remember my own commencement, but it's very hard. The week was a complete blur; I was directing the redux of the spring circus, which required my full attention for about 5 hours of the day. My parents and brother came into town early, on Wednesday, to explore and hang out. Over the next two days, my grandmother, uncle/aunt/cousin, and a group of family friends who operate as adopted uncle/aunt/cousin trio trickled into Oberlin, which added to my house's overall guest count to top out at around 30 (only three folks were staying there, but it served as a headquarters for all of us).
I remember little snippets of the day. Commencement itself started painfully early and was very hot. My friend Sandhya was a row behind me when we were seated and we whispered at each other for a good amount of the pomp and circumstance of the morning's beginnings. Someone in my row was doing the New York Times crossword. The girl in the row in front of me had wooden bike earrings. I carried my camera (well, Ben's camera) and continued my graduation tradition of taking a photo from the stage. I heard one of my childhood heroes, Julie Taymor '74, deliver our commencement address. The celebrating party and I went to Olive Garden for a late lunch/early dinner, where I got carded for my bellini, broke my drink glass in half (don't ask), and got a second one in return plus free appetizers. The heat broke later in the evening with a torrential thunderstorm. Somewhere in that mix, campus almost completely emptied out and the calm was upon us again. And then we went on a trip down nostalgia lane by departing for Kentucky the next morning.
I have more solid (and less overwhelming) memories of all other commencements I attended, of the hugs, the speakers, the celebrations. Even when you're working over the week, you have more in-between time to be a part of it all. Much like those momentous milestones in your life that you tell other people about, the ceremonies themselves are much more for your family and friends than for you. It's not to say that my graduation from Oberlin was insignificant, but beyond a handful of isolated moments mentioned above, my memories of commencement are informed by the others that I've been to.
This weekend marks my fifth commencement/reunion weekend, and I feel it is my duty to share some important information with those who are graduating and will probably graduate at some point. The following is a mix of practical and fun advice (because that's just how I do things). But first, some housekeeping.
If you're reading the blog post before May 29th, 2012, we have some treats for you. You're invited to follow along at home this weekend! We've got sweet picture updates on Instagram, some awesome multimedia posts on Tumblr, and as always the livestream of this year's commencement ceremonies (live on May 28th at 9:30am EST). If you're reading this post after the 29th, that's okay. The Instagram account and Tumblr will be around for your viewing pleasure for a while yet.
Okay! Back to our regularly scheduled advice-y-ness. A good chunk of this advice is recommended for graduation day proper, but extrapolate from there.
Go to senior supper. No, really, you should go. It's the second to last time you're with your whole graduating class (the last time is during commencement proper on the Monday following... sadfaceeee). You should go because of that, and you should go for the food, and you should go for the spectacle. Dressing up is encouraged, it's fun, and sometimes we do ridiculous things. Case in point: our debut of the Oberlin Friday video was last year at senior supper; this year, it's our homage to The Hangover (starring Ed Helms '96), aptly titled The Hangober.
Water. You should bring it with you and you should drink it, all weekend. Way more than you should drink anything else (I'm looking at you, Feve, for starting to serve drinks at 7am on commencement morning... really, there's more bad than good that comes from that early morning imbibing option).
Sunscreen. Oberlin has this ridiculous habit of being in the 90s during our celebratory weekend. Heed the water advice above, and get sunscreen (and wear it). Especially if you're wearing a cap and gown, you're going to have the most ridiculous tan/sunburn lines. Keep in mind that there will be all your family photos and belonging-lugging in the hours and days following graduation, and plan accordingly.
Hat/sunglasses. Pretend you're going to the Kentucky Derby, then put a tassel on it. It's going to be sunny and there isn't shade at the commencement setup in Tappan Square. Make your own with your aura of coolness (and your accessories).
Cell phone. Coordinating with folks during this weekend is a challenge unto itself, but after graduation, eep. Put it on vibrate or silent during the ceremony, and keep in handy for my next piece of advice, too.
Have a designated meeting place after commencement. The second the ceremony is over, people are flooding all over the place and finding your family and friends is incredibly difficult. And if you're trying to hug everyone, that meeting spot is the greatest idea. Bring people to you and you'll actually find them rather than running around like an errant chicken.
Plan lunch things way beforehand. I love each and every one of the restaurants in Oberlin, but during commencement, it is almost completely impossible to get into any of them, especially on Monday afternoon. Take this opportunity to explore some restaurants in the surrounding Lorain County, or venture into Cleveland (it's a foodie haven, you can read more in President Krislov's column from last year).
As much as it pains me to say it, start saying your goodbyes early. Senior week is gone in a blink, and as soon as parents roll into town, your time is just sucked up (in a good but stressful way). I really love and appreciate every single person who came to Oberlin for my commencement but spending time with them, directing the commencement OCircus! shows, and all the other craziness of that week meant that I didn't even get to say a proper goodbye to my closest friends from my four years here.
I guess I should back up that it's not that a proper goodbye is in order, but rather, one of those "I know I'm definitely going to see you but I'm not exactly sure when" hugs. Either way, come 6pm at the end of my graduation day, Oberlin was in the middle of a thunderstorm, I was helping my friend move, and saying goodbye to my grandmother all at once when I got a text from Sandhya saying they had left town and that we would catch up soon.
I misted up just writing those past two paragraphs. Meep. I love my friends, and it's one of the difficult things about staying in Oberlin after graduating: I see all the places I love, that I spent time at with my closest pals almost daily, but most of the folks I remember from those places are from another time. I guess that's what reunions are for, and why it's sort of awesome that we celebrate them together every year.
And now, some quick post-graduation thoughts, now that I've had two years to chew them over since my graduation day:
Stay in touch. While Facebook might fill a lot of the gaps in life upkeep after you leave, pick up the phone (or the video chat) every so often. It makes a world of difference when it comes to staying in each other's lives.
Friendships will change. You will probably not remain close friends with everyone. That's totally okay. You'll probably become better friends with other people from Oberlin (or not). That's also okay.
Your relationship to Oberlin will change. That needs to happen as a part of your graduation from this place. You can always come back to visit (and when you do, come say hello!), but it will never be the same Oberlin you knew (but there will be reminders of that Oberlin around always). Embrace your new role as an Oberlin alum, and come join the awesome club!
Stay in touch. There are a lot of ways you can stay connected to Oberlin. You'll probably get asked for money at some point (if you can't give right after college, that's okay; just let us know — but remember that even a five dollar gift makes a difference to us) and you definitely want to get our alumni magazine (more on this in a moment) and perhaps your athletic or department newsletters. You could even go so far as to update your ObieWeb profile (our internal alumni database) info so you can get updates on alumni happenings in your area. Actually, most of those ways are for us to stay in touch with you. How about joining the Oberlin alumni groups on Facebook and LinkedIn? Follow our Tumblr, our Facebook page (college and conservatory!), or Twitter to stay in touch with us. /end social media plugging.
Tell us what you're up to. There's a handy way to submit a class note via ObieWeb, but if you do something, anything — and it doesn't have to be huge, even an update is important to us — get in touch with the alumni magazine and we'll help get it out there.
As I said a few days ago to cinema studies professor Doron Galili, "Oberlin changes, we change, the only change that will remain is that time continues on." While you're highly encouraged to enjoy your time at Oberlin, after you leave us, embrace the changes and adjust as they come. We'll be prepared. We're Oberlin graduates.